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How to Become a Critical Care Registered Nurse

Explore the journey and rewards of becoming a CCRN in Australia.

Medical professional monitoring patient vitals in surgery


The main requirement to become a Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) in Australia is to gain experience as a registered nurse (RN) in an intensive care clinical setting. You don't need special qualifications beyond your nursing degree to start gathering foundational experience.

Critical care nurses deliver essential care to critically ill patients within intensive care units, emergency departments, and specialised care units. They evaluate patient conditions, provide treatments, and monitor responses, all while working with a multidisciplinary health team.

Postgraduate education is important to advance your knowledge and skills in this field and access specialist job opportunities. By studying for a Graduate Certificate in Critical Care Nursing or higher qualification, you can gain pay allowances and, with experience, compete for CCRN jobs and qualify for roles such as Clinical Nurse Specialist.

Steps to Becoming a Critical Care Nurse

Any Registered Nurse (RN) may be able to work in an intensive care or emergency setting and start their career as a Critical Care RN (CCRN). However, to truly be considered a CCRN and sustain a career in this field, you need to build experience and eventually obtain relevant postgraduate qualifications.

1. Obtain your RN qualification

  • Complete a Bachelor of Nursing degree, or a Master of Nursing Practice for those with a previous bachelor's degree in another field.
  • Ensure your program is accredited by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA).
  • Complete the required registration process with NMBA.

Related: Nursing Degrees Online in Australia

2. Gain initial critical care experience

  • Secure employment in high acuity settings like Intensive Care Units, Emergency Departments, High Dependency Units, Coronary Care Units, Burns Units, and Neo-natal ICUs.
  • Engage in on-the-job training and mentoring.

3. Acquire minimum required experience

  • Two years of experience in critical care environments is recommended to be able to strongly compete for specialised positions.

4. Commit to ongoing professional development

  • Participate in continuing professional development (CPD) activities to meet NMBA requirements.

5. Obtain postgraduate qualifications

Related: Postgraduate Nursing Courses Online

6. Gain employment as a clinical nurse specialist (optional)

  • Use your experience and postgraduate qualifications to apply for specialised roles.
  • In both NSW and Victoria, you can qualify to be a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) with either: (a) postgraduate qualifications in critical care and 12 months' experience working in this field; or (b) four years post-registration experience, including three years' experience in critical care.
  • Working as a CNS can be a precursor to securing a position as a Clinical Nurse Consultant (CNC).

7. Do further education (optional)

  • Consider a Master’s degree in Nursing with a focus on Critical Care or Intensive Care, or other relevant specialisations.

Related: Masters of Nursing Online in Australia

How Long is Critical Care Training?

As the career journeys of each of these critical care registered nurses highlights, critical care training is short but also ongoing. You can begin working in this field as a graduate RN. Young nurses often find they're able to secure designated critical care nursing jobs with a year or so of experience and a Graduate Certificate in Critical Care Nursing (or similar). Ongoing professional development is, however, required to continue advancing your career and move into senior roles.

Aarianna Read

Aarianna Read is a Critical Care Registered Nurse in Melbourne. She began as an RN working in a general hospital setting before transitioning to intensive care, where she spent eight months developing her skills. After gaining experience, Aarianna completed a specialised postgraduate certificate in critical care, which led to her current role.

Hannah Winter

Hannah Winter started her career as an Assistant in Nursing, where she worked for 11 months. She then advanced to a Registered Nurse position, focusing on blood management. After honing her skills there for 11 months, she further specialised in surgical nursing and haemodialysis. With this diverse background, Hannah stepped into her role as a critical care nurse in Melbourne.

John Fabian

John Fabian's progression to a CCRN began after completing his Bachelor's degree in Nursing. He first gained experience in a Graduate Nurse position before moving into critical care, where he accumulated over eight years of experience. To formalise his expertise, John pursued a Graduate Certificate in Critical Care Nursing. After working as an Intensive Care Nurse in Hobart, he transitioned to his current role in Canberra.

Lauren Hudson

Lauren Hudson is a Critical Care Registered Nurse with a focus on intensive care and anaesthetics/recovery. She is currently advancing her qualifications with a Master's in Advanced Clinical Nursing, specialising in Intensive Care Nursing. With nearly four years of experience, Lauren has transitioned through various nursing roles, gaining expertise in areas such as advanced life support, mechanical ventilation, and continuous renal replacement therapy.


Nurse or manager with a white jacket containing a nursing symbol

Critical care nurses, while not automatically earning higher pay, do receive competitive salaries. In Australia, the average annual salary for a registered nurse is estimated at $86,861 per year, or $43.81 per hour. Nurses working in ICU and other critical care environments tend to earn more than this, however. Job stability, compared to other nursing roles such as ER nursing, raises the average experience level, contributing to higher average salaries.

Becoming a nurse specialist also creates career progression opportunities. Specialisations often require further education and nursing certifications, which can lead to positions with higher salaries and pay allowances. For example, a postgraduate qualification in critical care nursing can open doors to roles such as Clinical Nurse Specialist and Clinical Nurse Consultant, both of which typically come with increased responsibilities and higher pay.

Furthermore, ICU and other critical care nurses often work irregular hours, including nights, weekends, and public holidays. The penalty rates associated with these unsociable hours can significantly boost your income. The opportunities for higher pay in critical care nursing are there, but they are tied to advanced qualifications, experience, and the willingness to work in high-pressure environments.

Related: Benefits of a Graduate Certificate in Nursing