A career in critical care nursing means working long hours and experiencing life and death situations on a regular basis. The benefits are making an impact on patients and their families that exceeds routine medical care, higher salaries and job security.
Responsibilities of Critical Care Nursing
Also known as ICU nurses, critical care nurses are trained to use their skills and experience to care for patients who are critically ill and at high risk for life-threatening health problems.
Critical care nursing responsibilities can include:
• Assessing a patient’s condition and planning and implementing patient care plans
• Treating wounds and providing advanced life support
• Assisting physicians in performing procedures
• Observing and recording patient vital signs
• Ensuring that ventilators, monitors and other types of medical equipment function properly
• Administering intravenous fluids and medications
• Ordering diagnostic tests
• Collaborating with fellow members of the critical care team
• Responding to life-saving situations, using nursing standards and protocols for treatment
• Acting as patient advocate
• Providing education and support to patient families
• Critical care nurses may also care for pre- and post-operative patients.
• In addition, some serve as case managers and policy makers, while others perform administrative duties.
Critical care nursing candidates must first be registered nurses with job experience in general patient care. Due to the demands and complexity of patient care required by critical care nursing, many potential employers prefer a prospective critical care nurse to have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and/or Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. Most practitioners learn advanced skills to be a critical care nurse via real field training in a hospital setting.
A popular credential for critical care nursing applicants is the Certified Critical Care Nurse (CCRN) offered through the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN).
Other skills required to be a critical care nurse are similar to those required to be a registered nurse (as listed by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics). The suggested skills are:
• Critical-thinking skills. Registered nurses must be able to assess changes in the health status of patients, including determining when to take corrective action and when to make referrals.
• Communication skills. Registered nurses must be able to communicate effectively with patients in order to understand their concerns and assess their health conditions. Nurses need to explain instructions, such as how to take medication, clearly. They must be able to work in teams with other health professionals and communicate the patients’ needs.
• Compassion. Registered nurses should be caring and empathetic when working with patients.
• Detail oriented. Registered nurses must be responsible and detail oriented because they must make sure that patients get the correct treatments and medicines at the right time.
• Emotional stability. Registered nurses need emotional resilience and the ability to manage their emotions to cope with human suffering, emergencies, and other stresses.
• Organizational skills. Nurses often work with multiple patients with various health needs. Organizational skills are critical to ensure that each patient is given appropriate care.
• Physical stamina. Nurses should be comfortable performing physical tasks, such as moving patients. They may be on their feet for most of their shift.
Salary and Job Outlook
The BLS states that as of May 2016, the average annual salary for a critical care nurse was $68,450, with the bottom 10% of critical care nurses earning an average of $47,120 a year, and the top 10% in critical care nursing earned $102,990 annually.
The constant advancement in technology, specifically with relation to healthcare, has led to the career of critical care nursing being in very high demand across the country.