Critical Care Nurse (CCN)

I. What They Do

The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses ( AACN) describes typical duties that include working directly with acutely and critically ill patients, often in hospital intensive care units (ICU). These patients require continuous monitoring and treatment of life-threatening conditions related to injury, long-term illness and other medical events, such as heart attacks and strokes.

Critical Care Nurses, also known as ICU Nurses, complete additional training beyond what is required for licensure as a Registered Nurse (RN), and may choose to pursue critical care nurse certification (CCRN).

Daily Responsibilities

  • Assess patient condition and administer treatment plans.
  • Use advanced life support equipment and other technological monitoring devices
  • Collaborate with other critical care medical professionals as part of a team
  • Advocate for the unique needs and situation of each patient
  • Educate and support patients’ families

Ideal Candidates

  • Highly organized and committed to continued learning
  • Quickly gather and assess available information in order to respond to changing situations
  • Communicate with patients and patients’ families during times of severe stress
  • Work well in high stress, fast-paced environments
  • Excel in high pressure situations that require following complex protocols

Specialization Areas

  • Adult
  • Neonatal
  • Pediatric

Work Environment

  • Hospitals
  • Intensive Care, Cardiac and Telemetry Units
  • Emergency Rooms
  • Medical Evacuation and Transportation Services
  • Outpatient Clinics
  • Nursing Homes

II.Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the demand for Registered Nurses is good, although those with at least a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and related work experience are likely to find more job prospects, than those with an associate degree.

Job Growth

In 2013, there were 2,661,890 registered nurses in the U.S. working in a wide range of medical environments and facilities, some with specialties such as critical care. According to the American Association of Critical Care Nurses, only 67,040 CCRNs were working in the United States in 2014. Here’s an AACN breakdown of the amount of critical care nurses by state:

Projected job growth for RNs in general is 19% between 2012 and 2022, which is faster than the 11% average for all positions.

Projected Job Growth for RNs, 2012-2022

Job Growth Percent Change for Registered Nurses vs Other U.S. Occupations

Metro Areas with Highest Number of CCNs Employed

Source: AACN Certification Corporation. Accessed February 2015.

Source: AACN Certification Corporation. Accessed February 2015.

CCN Salary

According to 2013 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, annual salaries for RNs can vary somewhat based on industry (e.g. government, hospitals, residential facilities). RNs with advanced training and certification, such as the CCRN credential, may also receive higher compensation.

Average Annual RN Salaries Since 2007
Year Average Annual Salary
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Annual Occupation Profiles. Accessed May 2014.
2007 $62,480
2008 $65,130
2009 $66,530
2010 $67,720
2011 $69,110
2012 $67,930
2013 $68,910

States with the Highest Average Salaries for RNs in 2013

III. How to Become One

Prospective nurses can earn their license after completing either an associate or bachelor’s program, although employers hiring for critical care positions may prefer applicants with Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degrees, as well as related previous work experience.

Education Requirements

To earn the RN license, each state’s board of nursing determines the requirements for licensure, which usually include an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing from an accredited institution.

Those interested in a nursing program leading to licensure eligibility should look for ones with accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and/or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Nurses must also pass the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses ( NCLEX).

Certification and Licensing Requirements

Nurses who pass the NCLEX are eligible for CCRN certification. Certification is not required to work in critical care settings, however many nurses in these environments choose to obtain CCRN training and credentials offered through the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN).

The CCRN-E certification is available for those who work in situations where they monitor critically ill patients via camera and other technologies from a remote location. The CCRN-K certification is also available for those who work with critical-care issues and environments, but don’t provide direct patient care.

The AACN lists the following requirements to take the CCRN exam:

  • Current licensure as an RN or APRN in the U.S.
  • Previous clinical experience:
    • Option 1: A minimum of 1,750 hours of experience in the previous two years working directly with acutely and/or critically ill patients, with 875 hours during the most recent year.
    • Option 2: Five years of experience that include a minimum of 2,000 hours working directly with acutely and/or critically ill patients, with 144 hours during the most recent year.

CCRN Recertification Requirements

Certification is issued for a three-year period. To renew, CCRNs must maintain their current RN or APRN licensure and complete 100 Continuing Education Recognition Points (CERPs) in three categories that include topics such as clinical inquiry, caring practices, response to diversity, and collaboration.