Intensive care unit (ICU) beds in the United States already number more than 20 per 100,000 residents, and is only expected to increase over time. With this growing need, the demand for nurses to care for these patients is also rising quickly. Read on to learn more about the field of ICU nursing, and how to pursue a career as an ICU nurse.
In this article:
- Who is an ICU nurse?
- What do ICU nurses do?
- Where do ICU nurses work?
- Requirements for ICU nurses
- Specific types of ICU nurses
- ICU nursing careers
- How to become an ICU nurse
Who Is an ICU nurse?
ICU nurses or critical care nurses are highly specialized and trained healthcare personnel who provide nursing care to patients with life-threatening illnesses or conditions. They provide specialized experience, knowledge, and skills that patients need to survive or de-escalate care. ICU nurses are trained to make split-second decisions and act quickly when a patient’s status changes. Their primary work environment in the hospital is in specialized care units. Typically, ICU patients need a high level of care, and most of them are admitted to the hospital.
What Do ICU Nurses Do?
ICU nurses work in challenging and complex fields in their nursing profession. They have the primary duty to provide lifesaving care to patients fighting for their lives. They are highly trained to provide exceptional care for patients who depend on 24/7 nursing care. A patient in ICU is often ventilated, intubated, and can be on several life-saving machines and medications. ICU nurses are at the top of their game and well-versed with all aspects of specialized care to restore their patients’ health and wellness. Some of the specific responsibilities of ICU nurses include:
- Evaluation and monitoring of the patient’s progress and identification of any sudden or subtle changes in the patient’s medical condition
- Administering medications intravenously by injection or via gastric tubes
- Delivering regular updates of patients’ progress to doctors, patients, and their families
- Perform approved diagnostic or therapeutic procedures according to the patient’s clinical status.
- Respond to health emergencies when called upon and alert appropriate doctors
- Evaluate patients’ laboratory data and vital signs to determine emergency interventions needs
- Caring for patient needs throughout their recovery journey in ICU
- Advocate for patients’ and families’ needs. ICU nurses often provide emotional support for patients and their families.
- Setting up and monitoring medical equipment and devices like medical ventilators, oxygen delivery devices, transducers, and pressure lines.
- Assessing patients pain level and sedation requirements
- Maintaining patient records
Top ICU nurse jobs on Incredible Health
Where Do ICU Nurses Work?
As the name suggests, critical care nurses primarily work at the ICU departments of health care facilities. ICUs are well sanitized and properly lit medical centers with strict adherence to health and safety. ICU nurses often move about between the intensive care unit, emergency department, operating theatre, and other hospital specialty wards. ICU nurses typically follow a standard shifting schedule that features morning, afternoon, and night timetables. There are also other shifting schedules, depending on the hospital and region.
Requirements for ICU nurses
To become a licensed ICU nurse, you, first of all, need to get a nursing education. Suitable nursing education can be a diploma program, an associated degree, or a bachelor’s degree in nursing science. You should also pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) exam. This qualification is a critical requirement if you wish to receive licensure and work in the United States. NCLEX-RN is a computer-generated exam offered by a non-profit organization, the National Council of State Nursing Boards (NCSBN).
Once you get a license to practice as a critical care nurse, you should also embark on continuing education that equips you with the latest knowledge, skills, and medical industry trends. Besides, many employers usually require that you maintain ongoing education to retain your position. To advance from this level, you should strive to earn a master’s degree from an accredited MSN program with an emphasis in ICU nursing.
Continuing education like an MSN degree equips you with the latest medical knowledge and skills that come in handy when treating critically ill patients. This education also builds on knowledge learned in your MSN and turns you into high-performing healthcare professionals. You are also equipped with leadership skills designed for your position.
Other certifications and credentials
Because of the challenges and responsibility that comes with operating in an ICU, hospitals require various certifications that guarantee they are hiring the best quality nurses. Many nurses who want to advance their careers are now turning into certifications. Additionally, certifications are a great way to increase ICU nurse salary. Four certifications specifically constitute nursing in critical care conditions:
- CRRN (adult) – nurses with this certification can provide adequate care for critically ill adult patients. With this certification, you can work in general ICUs, surgical ICUs, trauma units, transport and flight operations, and cardiac care units.
- CCRN (pediatric)- CCRN for pediatrics offers critical care for children. You can work in ICUs, trauma units, transport, and logistics.
- CCRN (Neonatal) -This is a certification for nursing related to newborn critical care. You are certified to work in ICUs, trauma units, transport, and logistics.
- CMC (Adult) – CMC unit certifications are required for nurses involved in cardiac care. These nurses are certified to work in electrophysiology units, heart failure clinics, general ICUs, and home care.
Specific Types of ICU nurses
The following are the different types of critical care nurses:
- Postoperative care ICU unit nurses – these nurses work with patients who experience pain following surgery. They typically have exceptional knowledge of anesthesiology.
- Pediatric ICU nurses – these nurses work in pediatric intensive care units and provide care to critically ill or injured children.
- Emergency room ICU nurses – ER nurses work with patients that need urgent treatment. They work long shifts, usually up to 40 hours a week.
- Neonatal ICU nurses – Neonatal nurses work with newborn babies who face a life-threatening disease or condition.
- Cardiac care unit ICU nurses – these nurses work with the most critically ill patients. They boast of exceptional experience and education in the medical field.
- Cardiothoracic ICU nurses – these nurses work with patients suffering from severe heart conditions. They handle a maximum of 2 patients.
Closely Related Types of Nurses
Other closely related types of nurses include:
- Flight nurses– these nurses work with critically ill patients who need to be evacuated by air for better treatment.
- Neuro nurses– these nurses work with patients who suffer from neuro problems such as sleep, sexuality, or communication problems.
- Surgical ICU nurses– these nurses work with patients who don’t have a prognosis immediately after surgery.
ICU Nursing Career Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses’ employment is projected to grow 7 percent from 2019 to 2029. This rate is faster than the average for all occupations. The growth is fueled by increasing rates of chronic conditions such as obesity and diabetes and an increase in emerging diseases like the current coronavirus pandemic.
If you want to be part of the projections, contact Incredible Health today. Hospitals on Incredible Health are actively hiring for ICU nurses across the United States.
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How to Become an ICU nurse
Step 1: Become a registered nurse.
The first step to becoming an ICU nurse is to be a registered nurse (RN). Before you become a registered nurse, you have to graduate with BSN or an ADN from an accredited nursing program. Afterward, you must pass the NCLEX examination.
Step 2: Accumulate experience.
You will need at least two years of nursing experience in a position specializing in intensive care nursing to become an ICU nurse.
Step 3: Obtain ICU certifications.
You must also obtain the required ICU certification before you become an ICU nurse. One of the most popular certifications for ICU nurses is the Certification For Adult Critical Care Nurses (CCRN). The American Association of Critical Care Nurses awards CRRN for Critical Care Nurses. You must meet the following to qualify to sit for the CCRN exam:
- You must have practiced as an RN or APRN for 1750 hours in critically ill patients’ direct care in the last two years. Typically, 875 of those hours should have been accrued in the most recent year before the application.
- Alternatively, you must have practiced as an RN or APRN for at least five years with a minimum of 2000 hours caring for critically ill patients. Ideally, 144 of those hours should have been accrued in the most recent year before application.
According to the AACN website, eligible clinical practice hours must be completed in a US-based or Canada based facility or any other facility determined to be comparable to US standards of critical care nursing practice. You can schedule The Exam at an ANNCC approved center after paying $344. There are over 300 approved ANCC centers in the country
ICU nursing career is one of the most rewarding callings with excellent job growth prospects and higher pay as enumerated above. According to BLS, there were 3,059,800 registered nurses in the US in 2018. It is projected that by 2028, there will be a need for additional 371,500 nurses, and with the aging population and recent COVID 19 pandemic, the number is expected to be higher.