Nursing is an incredibly wide and varied field, with a huge range of specialities in which one could choose to focus. Intensive Care Unit nursing, or ICU nursing, is similarly complex. Any medical professional intent on becoming an ICU nurse will find themself choosing from among a number of sub specialities, ranging from neonatal and pediatric, to cardiac catheterization.
As one might expect, the path to this ultimate career goal is long. However once you get there, it is incredibly rewarding. If you are a nurse who is calm, collected, confident, and loves to help people in hard situations, keep reading to find out how you can join the ranks of ICU nursing.
What is an ICU Nurse?
At its most basic, the Intensive Care Unit Nursing job description involves the care of patients who are dangerously ill, or suffering from a life-threatening injury. ICU patients require an acute degree of attention from their caretakers, and as their conditions may change or deteriorate very rapidly, ICU nurses must be alert, flexible, and extremely knowledgeable of various emergency medical intervention techniques.
The typical duties of an ICU nurse are as follows:
Diagnosing patient illnesses and injuries.
Cleaning and bandaging patient wounds.
Tracking patient life support monitors, and immediately responding to any changes.
Performing regular head-to-toe assessments.
Continuously evaluating patient vital signs.
Administering medications through a variety of methods, and monitoring patient reactions.
Infusing blood products, and monitoring patient reactions.
Identifying patient needs according to age, level of consciousness, and implementing a care plan.
Collaborating with doctors and other nurses.
Educating and supporting the patient’s family.
Caring for the patient’s body immediately after death, and arranging transportation to a postmortem facility.
Depending on their chosen sub speciality, the daily duties of an ICU nurse may differ significantly.
In addition to the technical duties in the above list, ICU nurses must also act as the advocate for their patient, and act as their liaison to doctors, other nurses, the patient’s family, and any other relevant authorities. The attending nurse must respect and uphold the values, beliefs, and basic rights of their patient, and act in their best interest.
Nurses working in an ICU can expect to take home up to $140,000 a year in salary, depending on their location and their chosen sub speciality.
Requirements for Becoming an ICU Nurse
The basic requirements for education, certification, and licensure are the same across the ICU discipline, however specific education and training may prove critical in certain sub specialities. Fields of focus include, but are not limited to:
Critical Care Nurse (CCRN) (Adult, Pediatric, or Neonatal) – providing direct care to critical patients.
CCRN-K (Adult, Pediatric, or Neonatal) – providing advisory, indirect care to critical patients. Nurses in this speciality influence care practice to a number of patients, without making contact.
CCRN-E (Adult) – providing remote care through teleICU audiovisual communication and monitoring.
CMC (Adult) – cardiac medicine certified nurses provide direct care to patients suffering critical or acute cardiac illnesses.
CSC (Adult) – cardiac surgery certified nurses provide direct care to patients who have undergone surgery for critical or acute cardiac illnesses. Generally nurses under this specialty provide post operative care to their patients for 48 hours after.
ACNPC – AG (Adult, Gerontological) – providing direct care to acutely or critically ill gerontological patients.
In all cases, nurses seeking critical care certification must first complete a BSN (bachelor of science in nursing) and hold RN licensure in their state of practice.
CCRN: must practice as an RN or APRN for a total of 1,750 hours with acute/critically ill patients during the previous two years. Nurses seeking adult, pediatric, or neonatal certification must practice in their respective fields.
CCRN-E: must practice as an RN or APRN for a total of 1,750 hours during the previous two years in a teleICU or combination teleICU and direct care scenario.
CMC: must practice as an RN or APRN for a total of 1,750 hours with acute/critically ill patients during the previous two years. 875 of the total hours must be in the care of acute/critical cardiac patients.
CSC: must practice as an RN or APRN for a total of 1,750 hours with acute/critically ill patients during the previous two years. 875 of the total hours must be in the care of acute/critical cardiac patients within the first 48 hours post operatively.
ACNPC – AG: must complete a graduate degree as an adult-gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner at a nationally accredited school of nursing.
Final Thoughts: Becoming an ICU Nurse
Critical care nursing is a profession which is vital to the success of the medical world, and to the continued wellbeing of patients. If you are considering stepping into this field, please use the above guide to help you begin your journey.