Nurse Types / CVICU Nurse
A cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU) nurse cares for patients with critical heart and vascular conditions who need constant monitoring and expert medical support.
CVICU nurses may care for patients with complex problems, like congenital heart anomalies, cardiac infections, myocardial infarctions (heart attacks), or vascular diseases. Cardiovascular function impacts every area of the body. A good CVICU nurse must understand how cardiovascular problems affect other bodily systems, like the kidney, brain, and lungs.
The CVICU is an excellent fit for nurses who are strong critical thinkers with a deep understanding of cardiac rhythms, pathophysiology, and advanced medical interventions.
This article will explain exactly what a CVICU nurse does and how to get started in this field, including:
- What is a CVICU nurse?
- What do CVICU nurses do?
- Where do CVICU nurses work?
- What are specific types of CVICU nurses?
- How do you become a CVICU nurse in 3 steps?
- What are additional requirements of CVICU nurses?
- What are the salary and career outlooks for CVICU nurses?
What is a CVICU nurse?
A CVICU nurse provides advanced medical care to patients with complex cardiovascular problems. Many of these patients have recently undergone cardiac surgery for conditions like atrial fibrillation, abdominal aortic aneurysm, or heart valve replacements. Others are suffering from conditions like shock, respiratory insufficiency, or heart failure.
Qualities of a successful CVICU nurse
CVICU nursing is a type of critical care nursing. A great CVICU nurse must be organized, meticulous, and a strong critical thinker. Patients in the CVICU require advanced cardiac monitoring and intervention, so this type of nurse should be comfortable interpreting cardiac rhythms and responding appropriately.
Other skills required in this role include:
- A deep understanding of the heart, including pathophysiology, common disease processes, and cardiac rhythms
- Able to manage complex medications and therapies, like Continuous Renal Replacement Therapy (CRRT), Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO)Strong resuscitation skills
- Attention to detail and ability to assess, interpret, and intervene according to minute shifts in general patient condition
- Ability to communicate well with an health team
- A love of supporting and teaching patients and their families about cardiovascular issues and recovery
What do CVICU nurses do?
CVICU nurses provide advanced care for critically ill patients with cardiovascular problems.
Patients may include:
- Babies with congenital heart defects
- Adolescents with pericarditis (an infection of the lining around the heart)
- Adults with complex medical histories that include heart failure along with comorbidities like diabetes or cancer
A day in the life of a CVICU nurse
Most CVICU nurses work with just one or two patients at a time. A typical shift may begin with receiving a report from another nurse, including:
- Patient’s medical and surgical history
- Last set of vital signs and pain management plan
- Current medications and interventions
- Scheduled interventions with surgical, rehabilitative therapy, or imaging teams
- Dietary and daily care needs
- Relevant psychosocial or family issues
Next, the CVICU provides a thorough head-to-toe assessment of the patient, including:
- Intake and output
- Pain level and vital signs
- Skin assessment
- Heart and lung sounds
- Cardiac rhythm
The CVICU nurse then administers medications and monitors therapies throughout the shift. The nurse may also need to prepare the patient for a procedure or test. The nurse ensures that the patient’s daily care needs are met, including appropriate diet, bathing, and patient education.
Throughout the shift, the CVICU must communicate and coordinate with other members of the healthcare team. This might mean ensuring pain medication is administered prior to a scheduled procedure or knowing when to call the physician about a subtle change in heart rhythm.
The CVICU nurse must be ready to call the rapid response team and jump into action if a patient’s heart stops beating. They must also be prepared to support patients and families with complex diagnoses or poor outcomes.
Common conditions treated by CVICU nurses
The cardiovascular system is a complex system that impacts every part of the body. CVICU nurses work with patients with a wide variety of cardiac and vascular problems, including:
- Coronary artery bypass grafting
- Heart and lung transplant
- Heart failure
- Ventricular Assist Device implantation and management
- Cardiogenic Shock
- Intra-Aortic Balloon Pump (IABP) procedures
- Heart valve replacement
- Transcutaneous Aortic Valve Implantation (TAVI)
- Surgical intervention for atrial fibrillation
- Thrombolytic therapy related to vascular emergencies
According to one study, the most common admission diagnoses to the CVICU are acute coronary syndrome (31.8%) and heart failure (18.6%).
Some patients with cardiovascular issues can be managed on a general med-surg floor.
Patients in the CVICU are usually admitted because of advanced issues like respiratory insufficiency, shock, unstable arrhythmias, and cardiac arrest.
Where do CVICU nurses work?
Nearly all CVICU nurses work in hospital intensive care units due to the complex monitoring and support these patients require.
Some nurses may work in step-down units, specialized telemetry units, or in remote teleICU facilities where they provide an additional set of eyes or expertise for patients offsite. Others may work in post-operative anesthesia units, cardiac cath labs, electrophysiology units, or interventional cardiology units.
The CVICU is a high-technology workplace. Cardiovascular intensive care often requires advanced technology for intervention and monitoring. Some examples include:
- Intra-aortic balloon pumps
- Continuous renal replacement therapy
- Artificial ventilation
- Intravenous and central lines
- Conscious sedation
What are specific types of CVICU nurses?
CVICU nurses are already very specialized healthcare professionals. Some CVICU nurses may further specialize in a subset of cardiovascular care, like post-operative care, pediatric or neonatal cardiovascular care, or cardiothoracic intensive care.
Closely Related Fields
Nurses who work in the CVICU are a type of critical care nurse. Other critical care nurses include Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurses and Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) nurses. Nurses who enjoy working with critical patients in a fast-paced environment might also consider emergency nursing.
How do you become a CVICU nurse in 3 steps?
Given the specialized nature of CVICU nursing, it takes extra training and experience to work as a CVICU nurse. Here’s how to get started.
Step 1 – Become a registered nurse
The first step to becoming a CVICU nurse is to obtain your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and pass the NCLEX exam.
Earn a BSN degree
BSN-prepared nurses are in high demand, and most employers are looking to hire nurses with a bachelor’s degree rather than an associates. A BSN may also help you negotiate for a better salary and more responsibilities.
Pass the NCLEX-RN exam
The NCLEX is a national exam that every registered nurse must pass in order to demonstrate a minimum level of skill and knowledge to practice safely.
There are two versions of the NCLEX for both practical and registered nurses. Nurses who aspire to critical care nursing should sit for the NCLEX-RN.
Passing the NCLEX exam enables you to apply for a nursing license in the state where you would like to practice. Once you have your license, it’s time to find your first CVICU job. Our career resources can help you find and prepare for your next nursing position.
Step 2 – Accumulate experience
Helpful skills and experience
CVICU nurses should have a good understanding of cardiovascular issues. One way to prepare for this type of position is to take continuing education units on topics related to cardiac pathophysiology, interpreting cardiac rhythms, post-operative care, and advanced cardiovascular interventions.
Changing specialty to a CVICU nurse
Many nurses start their careers on the med-surg floor, which is excellent preparation for CVICU nursing. A year or two on a med-surg floor will help you learn the skills to care for patients with both medical and surgical needs in a less-acute setting.
Other nurses switch specialties from areas like emergency nursing, telemetry nursing, or other areas of critical care nursing. These positions provide excellent background in cardiac rhythms, critical nursing skills, and advanced medical technology.
Some hospitals also offer fellowship programs for nurses looking to switch to the CVICU. Check out the Incredible Health job board for CVICU positions near you.
Step 3 – Obtain certifications
All CVICU nurses should maintain active Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) certifications.
As you gain experience and confidence in the CVICU, you may be interested in obtaining specialized certifications to demonstrate your knowledge and skill. These certifications may qualify you for more advanced positions or a better salary.
Most advanced certifications require at least 2-5 years of experience working with critically ill cardiac patients. Available certifications include:
- Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN)
- Cardiac Medicine Certification (CMC)
- Cardiac Surgery Certification (CSC)
- Cardiac Vascular Nursing Certification (RN-BC)
- Certified Cardiac Rehabilitation Professional (CCRP)
What are additional requirements of CVICU nurses?
Nurses working in the CVICU thrive in a high-stress and fast-paced environment. They know how to manage their time, prioritize tasks, and provide exceptional, advanced-level nursing care.
This work can be difficult, however. CVICU nurses must also understand how to protect their mental health from the emotional labor involved in CVICU nursing.
What are the salary and career outlooks for CVICU nurses?
Critical care nurses can earn up to $90,855, well above the average annual salary of $82,750. Due to an increasing need for nurses and critical care nurses in general, the career outlook for CVICU nursing is optimistic.
The CVICU can be a gratifying place to work. It provides the opportunity to care for patients using advanced technology and a great deal of skill.
One recent study found that 94-96% of registered nurses are satisfied with their jobs.
If you’re looking for a fast-paced, high-reward career in critical care nursing, the CVICU might be right for you.
Nurses in this field are in demand, and there is much room for growth within the field. You can grow your career as a CVICU nurse with additional certifications or by taking on a managerial role in the unit.
Another option is to pursue an advanced degree as a cardiac nurse practitioner. Teaching and research are also great options for those looking for a change of pace.
If you’d like to speak to other nurses to learn about CVICU nursing (or any aspect of nursing!), join the conversation over in our question-and-answer portal.
Take the first step in your next career as a CVICU nurse. Create a profile with Incredible Health today to find your next job opportunity!
- Bohula EA, Katz JN, van Diepen S, et al. Demographics, Care Patterns, and Outcomes of Patients Admitted to Cardiac Intensive Care Units: The Critical Care Cardiology Trials Network Prospective North American Multicenter Registry of Cardiac Critical Illness. JAMA Cardiol. 2019;4(9):928-935 doi:10.1001/jamacardio.2019.2467
- Occupational Outlook Handbook – Registered Nurses. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed June 12, 2022.
- Critical Care Registered Nurse. AACN.org. Accessed June 12, 2022.
- Cardiac Medicine Certification. AACN.org. Accessed June 12, 2022.
- Cardiac Surgery Certification. AACN.org. Accessed June 12, 2022.
- Cardiac Vascular Nursing Certification (CV-BC™). ANCC.org. Accessed June 12, 2022.
- Certified Cardiac Rehabilitation Professional (CCRP). AACVPR.org. Accessed June 12, 2022.
- Rincon T, Henneman E. An introduction to nursing surveillance in the tele-ICU. Nursing Critical Care. 2018;13(2):42-46. doi:10.1097/01.ccn.0000527223.11558.8a
- Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash