What is a Critical Care Nurse?
A critical care nurse, also sometimes referred to as an ICU nurse, is a type of nurse that provides care to patients that are in critical condition. These types of nurses may care for adults or children recovering from serious medical problems including illnesses and injuries. Some critical care nurses also work in wards or units that take care of patients only with specific medical problems, such as critical care burn units.
Critical care nurses are some of the most in demand nurses in this field. The long hours and stressful work environments often make this career extremely challenging and both physically and emotionally. It takes a very special type of person to be a successful critical care nurse.
Education and training are not the only requirements that you should have if you’re looking to become a critical care nurse. These types of nurses should have excellent communication skills as well as the ability to assess patients make decisions quickly.
As a career, critical care nursing can also be very emotionally draining and heart wrenching. Critical care nurses are often faced with the harsh reality of losing patients every now and again, despite their best efforts. If you’re looking into a career in this nursing specialty, you should be able to deal with loss in a fairly quick and healthy manner.
What do Critical Care Nurses Do?
In order to be a critical care nurse, you have to be a registered nurse (RN). You will look after patients of any age who are acutely ill. This means you will get to work in critical care settings, such as burn centers, accident and emergency rooms and intensive care. To work in this field, you must be prepared to spend long hours on your feet and it is not uncommon for nurses to develop back problems because of this and due to the fact that they have to move and lift patients.
The biggest challenge, however, is that you will have to work with patients who are critically ill. This means you have to have a strong disposition and be able to detach yourself emotionally to some degree. It could be said that critical care nurses have the same basic duties and responsibilities as both traditional staff nurses and emergency nurses. They provide much of the basic care for critical patients, and assist physicians and specialists with monitoring and treating these patients.
As a critical care nurse, you will be responsible for monitoring your critical patients. Since these patients are often literally on the edge, you may be required to take and record data such as vital signs and blood oxygen levels several times each hour. This is typically accomplished with a variety of bedside monitoring equipment, including bedside monitors and hand-held vital sign monitoring equipment.
Any change – good or bad – in your patients’ conditions should promptly be reported to their primary care physicians or your charge nurse, so their treatments can be adjusted according to their progression or decline. You may be called upon to assess patients quickly, particularly if they are not responding favorably to a certain treatment, and possibly adjust their treatment options yourself. Should the worst happen, you should also be skilled in a number of life saving techniques, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and know how to use life saving equipment, such as defibrillators.
Communication with patients’ loved ones is another important aspect of the job. Critical care nurses are frequently the people that most loved ones communicate during these difficult times. you should be prepared to explain medical procedures and treatments, update loved ones on patients’ conditions, and at times even inform them of the worst.
Where do Critical Care Nurses Work?
The majority of critical care nurses work in hospitals with intensive and critical care units. A handful of critical care nurses, however, may work as transport nurses, accompanying patients in critical condition to more well-equipped medical facilities.
How do I Become a Critical Care Nurse?
Typically, the majority of critical care nursing employers will accept nothing less than Registered Nurses (RN) for their staffs. However, depending on the demand for these types of nurses, some facilities may consider hiring Licensed Practical Nurses. These careers typically involve earning a nursing diploma or degree and passing the appropriate nurse licensure exam.
Critical Care Nurse Job Requirements
In order to become a critical care nurse, you have to have attended nursing school in order to obtain a nursing license. Furthermore, you may need to obtain a master’s degree in critical care, meaning you will have to take part in an RN to MSN program. Once qualified, you will be expected to be dedicated to your continuous professional education as well, meaning you will continue to take part in various courses. Different requirements are very common as you can see below. This list has been compiled by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Job openings found in September of 2012 and ONet Online.
- Degree level: Bachelor or Associate’s degree or any other professional diploma.
- Degree field: Nursing
- Certification and/or Licensure: NCLEX-RN as well as Pediatric Advanced Life Support and/or Certification in Advanced Cardiac Life Support
- Experience: Although not obliged by law, most employers will require you to have between 1 and 2 years experience prior to taking on a job in critical care.
- Key skills: Empathy, interpersonal communication, decision-making and critical thinking.
- Computer skills: Information retrieval software and medical software
- Technical skills: Traction equipment, vascular catheters and various imaging systems (like ultrasound)
How to Become a Critical Care Nurse
First of all, you need to get a nursing education. This can be a diploma program, an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree. These courses include physiology, anatomy, microbiology, chemistry, nutrition, psychology, and various social and behavioral sciences. The course will also include liberal arts and a number of core subjects, such as mental health nursing, nursing ethics and pharmacology. Furthermore, you will have to gain some clinical experience, which is provided in a variety of settings.
Tip For Success
If you do want to become a critical care nurse, you should try to do as many rotations in intensive care units of other such settings. This will look great on your resume and start to build up the experience you need. If you choose a good nursing school, they should be able to help place you in the type of environment that you are interested in.
The second step is to get your license. This means you must complete your training program and then take part in the NCLEX-RN. Every state board of nursing tends to have some additional requirements. Therefore, don’t forget to check the requirements of your state.
The third step is to get more work experience in units offering acute care. Usually, you will start by doing work such as patient evaluation and implementation of care tasks. This includes such things as administering medication and taking various readings of vital sounds. Through your experience, work ethics and continuous education, you will be able to promote to higher levels, gaining even further experience.
Try to get PALS and/or ACLS certification. These will look fantastic on your resume. You can search courses and tests in these areas through the American HEART Association.
The fourth step is about looking into graduate education. There are various schools out there that have specialty programs in acute care. These will let you gain between 30 and 60 credit hours. Some of the things you can learn about include advanced cardiac life support, trauma nursing and clinical pathophysiology. Furthermore, you could take part in clinical experiences, complete research or do internships in various facilities.
The final step is about becoming certified. You can seek certification through the American Association of Critical Care Nurses. Different organizations will also have different requirements in terms of the type of certification you need, as well as wanting you to have experience in specific areas such as working with patients who are acutely ill.
Education Pathways to Become a Nurse
There are various pathways to become a nurse, which have been described in detail by the Education Portal. However, the most common options are:
LPN and VPN programs
Associate Degree in Nursing
Bachelor of Science in Nursing
Master of Science in Nursing
Advanced Practice Nurse Certification
There are also a number of options available in terms of studying online. More and more schools are now offering online education options as well. It is very important to make sure that the program you want to follow is fully accredited. There are different accreditation bodies, but the two main ones that look into nursing degrees are:
– The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. Some schools refer to this body as the NLNAC.
– The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, which accredits bachelor and master’s programs.
How Much Does It Cost to Become a Nurse?
The cost of tuition and your overall education will depend on a number of factors. Different schools have different fees, often depending on whether they are private or public and for or not for profit. Additionally, online programs tend to be cheaper than residential programs. Furthermore, there are other costs as well, such as your cost of living. According to the RN Programs database, you can expect to pay between $20,000 and $30,000 per year. Financial aid may be available through various sources. The college or university of your choice will be able to direct you to the right body and help you with the application process.
Salary and Work Expectations
The job prospects for critical care nurses are very good. Nursing in general is becoming increasingly popular. This is because we have an aging population and we are also facing an obesity epidemic, which brings various health problems with it. The nurse practitioner workforce is expected to grow exponentially over the coming years, above and beyond the expectations for other professions. A full study has taken place to confirm this by Auerbach.
In terms of salary, the largest proportion of critical care nurses earn between $40,000 and $54,999 per year. The actual salary will depend on your geographical location, your place of work, your education and your experience. Further details have been provided by Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow.
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