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ICU Nurse Career Overview

If you are just out of high school or college and want to pursue a career in nursing, perhaps becoming an ICU nurse is what you should consider. ICU nurses have an RN and often a BSN as other nurses do with additional clinical training in critical or intensive care units. If you have a great desire to help people and save lives, working as an ICU nurse in a hospital or healthcare facility may be what you should consider. It’s a real-life chance to be a true hero.

ICU nurses play an important role in the healthcare industry by being there at the most critical time. Their primary job is to provide care to patients with life-threatening medical conditions. The purpose of the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) is to keep the patient sedated or medicated during a critical medical time with the goal being to restore them to health.

What is an ICU nurse?

ICU nurses work in a CCU (critical care unit) of a hospital or healthcare facility that is focused on taking care of patients who have had surgeries, accidents, traumas, or organ failure. One example is a heart attack or people who might be on the verge of a heart attack. Cancer patients may also be kept in an ICU unit as they reach a critical point in their care or they are being medicated constantly as part of their pain management.

Their qualifications are the same as a regular nurse, and you will go through the same general type of training as a standard RN, but you will also work on trauma unit situations and emergency care so you will be prepared for what you will do in an ICU unit. Learning to handle the stress of the job is also essential so that you will be able to deal with the stressful factors that may inhibit your ability to perform. It’s not for everyone, but, if you can focus during a high-stress time, you’ll be perfect for it.

Day in the Life of an ICU Nurse

ICU nurses lead an interesting life. It is sometimes stressful due to the critical situations they are faced with each day. Oftentimes ICU nurses know that a patient’s life is literally in their hands. They take this responsibility seriously and they are vigilant about the well-being of their patient at all times and their vital signs.

When a problem is discovered, or a patient’s vital signing are declining, you must notify a doctor or specialist who deals with the patient immediately. Sometimes interventions can be made to increase their vitals at this critical time. Other times, it may not be possible to revive them. These decisions should be made by doctors who deal with their care and based on the ethical and legal aspects including living wills, requests of the family, and other factors.

ICU nurses have a unique role in that most of their interactions with patients are through charts and reading numbers such as vital signs. Since most patients in the ICU are intubated, you cannot talk with patients as you might in other specialties. However, you may have to communicate with families and doctors. Once your patients are stable, they will move to another floor for continued care.

Traits and Qualities of an ICU Nurse

If you are a nurse or are studying to be a nurse in an ICU setting, you should know that working in this setting requires careful attention to patient progress, assessment and monitoring of the patient’s condition at all times, and noticing subtle changes in their condition that might require emergency intervention.

Key elements of a person’s health such as heart and lung issues are often present. This means you have an ethical and legal responsibility as an ICU nurse to take note of any changes that might threaten the life of the patient and act quickly when needed.

The best ICU nurses can stay calm in critical situations while acting quickly as needed to save lives. They also have a sense of when to get alarmed and when to stay calm and who to contact to help when a patient reaches critical levels.

Knowledge of the process of anesthesia during surgery and ventilation support is also sometimes necessary, as well as the knowledge of various life-stabilizing medications.

Difficult Challenges

One of the difficult challenges that you may encounter as an ICU nurse are the end-of-life situations. Some of these situations are dramatic for the patient and the family, and you must apply psychology and empathy to offer support to the family during that time. Additionally, it may sometimes become necessary to withhold medical care when the person has a living will in place that states they do not want to be kept on life support. This goes against everything you have learned as a nurse where your goal is saving lives. However, when a person has made this part of their legal wishes, it must be honored. So, you will have to learn how to deal with this difficult situation and how to handle it before you are faced with it for real.

Career Outlook

If you plan to work as an ICU nurse, you will want to think about what aspect of nursing you want to focus on. You could work as either an adult or pediatric nurse, or you could choose to work with cardiology, neurological care, or oncology. These areas all require specialized training in addition to your basic nurses’ training in critical care units.

Other Skills Needed by an ICU Nurse

There are additional skills you may need an ICU nurse. Some of the most important ones are listed below.

  • Ability to deal with life-and-death situations
  • Teamwork and multi-tasking ability
  • Ability to work long hours
  • Staying calm under pressure

Salaries and Education

The national salary data on Salary.com shows the median yearly salary for ICU nurses to be around $68,864 as of 2016. The mid-range salary of nurses in this role was between $62,052-$74,826. ICU nurses often also receive comprehensive benefits that may include health insurance, time off with pay, and 401k plans.

To prepare for a lucrative career as an ICU RN, you need a BSN (Bachelor of science degree in nursing) from an accredited university with specialized training in life-threatening conditions. Most employers and hospital administrators want to see a BSN with excellent assessment and critical thinking skills that will help you to make important decisions that are always in the best interests of the patient.

This position requires a set of highly specialized skills that are focused on the life-threatening situation and life-saving techniques for CCU patients. A Bachelor’s degree in nursing lays the groundwork for this exciting and lucrative career so that you can apply your skills to the daily job in a professional way.

ICU nurses are also faced with a wide variety of health conditions that require a high level of expertise as well as a sense of empathy to help families and patients cope with life-threatening illnesses.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the job outlook for ICU and CCU nurses would continue to be strong in the coming years. It is expected that the need for qualified and trained nurses in this field will grow by up to 16% by the year 2024, faster than most other occupations. Additionally, RNs with a BSN degree coupled with valuable field experience in a clinical setting will be able to write their ticket and develop their path to success as an ICU or CCU nurse shortly.

Why be an ICU nurse?

ICU nurses are seen as a sort of “angel,” a true caregiver when it matters the most, at the end of someone’s life or in a life-threatening illness situation. Families are often traumatized by the situation which requires a deep understanding of human psychology and grief, as well as the ability to reassure the family that their loved one is in good hands.

Confidence is important, but the position of an ICU nurse often humbles someone to realize how fragile the human body is. For people who want to work in one of the most important types of roles where you can make a difference between life and death for many, being an ICU nurse may be for you.

Start by looking into colleges that focus on study in nursing and obtain the BSN degree. Then do your residency training in a hospital with trained ICU care nursing managers and doctors. Then you will be on your way to reaching your goals.

Being an ICU nurse can be stressful. But those who do this on a daily basis say it is the most rewarding job they could think of doing, and they wouldn’t want to do anything