Critical Care Nurse Career Overview
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Critical care nurses provide crucial care by monitoring and treating patients with life-threatening illnesses and injuries. This gratifying job places nurses in a fast-paced environment where they must think clearly and critically for long stretches of time.
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What Does a Critical Care Nurse Do?
Critical care nurses possess the same skills as a registered nurse and may undergo additional training to care for acute or critical illnesses. An average workday includes monitoring critical medical support equipment and tending to patients with life-threatening injuries. Critical care nurses require clear communication to interact with other nurses and interdisciplinary teams to stabilize emergency situations. Nurses also work with healthcare providers to administer medical treatments, and keep the patient's family informed.
- Ability to access and treat patients swiftly and accurately
- Critical thinker in a fast-paced environment
- Good communicator between patients and families
- Physically fit for long, intensive shifts
Where Do Critical Care Nurses Work?
Critical care nurses apply their advanced training and expertise to various healthcare settings.
They typically work in intensive care units (ICU) but provide care in other healthcare facilities related to emergency injuries or long-term illness. Step-down units look after patients who don't need as much immediate care as a patient in the ICU but aren't stable enough to be sent to a medical floor or home. Some critical care nurses can even work from home by supporting other nurses from a teleICU.
- Stabilize patients' health by assessing their condition, administering medicine, and monitoring life support machines
- Adapt and stay calm under high-stress situations where critical thinking is crucial
- Coordinate with the interdisciplinary team and the patient's family on the best course of action for the patient
- Help lower the number of patients in the ICU by providing an intermediate place for more stable patients to go
- Provide care for patients who have just gone through major surgery or continue to need medical support
- Comfort patients and families
- Quickly be able to respond to any changes in a patient's condition
- Create a treatment plan for a patient with other nurses and specialists through videoconferencing
- Have an open mind to new ideas and ways to treat patients with teleICUs being a new development in healthcare
- Technologically capable
- Analytically minded
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Why Become a Critical Care Nurse?
Critical care nurses bear high-risk, high-reward careers because of the incredible amount of responsibility they carry when caring for patients in life-threatening situations. Nurses have to assume the job of advocate for unconscious patients and form bonds with the patient's family throughout the patient's admission. These situations add emotional weight to nurses' professional lives and can take a toll on their mental health.
Although they carry this heavy burden, there are many benefits to critical care nursing. When working at an ICU or other healthcare facilities, the critical care nurses have access to the most up-to-date medical equipment and get to work alongside veteran professionals. A critical care nurse also has many opportunities to specialize and gain a higher salary or seek higher-level positions.
Advantages to Becoming a Critical Care Nurse
The reward of having a part in a critically ill or injured patient's recovery
Get to work with various professionals and work as part of a team
Critical care nurses only provide care to a few patients at a time
Opportunity to work with state-of-the-art medical technology
Disadvantages to Becoming a Critical Care Nurse
Critical care nurses sometimes face long hours where they might have to stay on their feet for 12-hour shifts
Burnout from the high mortality rate of patients in critical conditions
The heavy emotional weight of being a patients' advocate if they are unable to communicate
How to Become a Critical Care Nurse
Pass the NCLEX-RN to Receive RN Licensure.
Gain Experience in Critical Care Nursing.
Consider Earning a Specialty Certification in Critical Care Nursing.
Critical Care Nurse Certifications and Specialty Areas
Adult Critical Care Nurse (CCRN)
Pediatric Critical Care Nurse (CCRN-P)
Neonatal Critical Care Nurse (CCRN-P)
How Much Do Critical Care Nurses Make?
A critical care nurse's salary varies from geographical location, but they receive a national annual median pay of $74,991. Los Angeles, California, boasts the highest salaries for critical care nurses, with nurses earning more than 51.7% above the national average. The more experience a nurse has plays a large part in their earnings with PayScale reporting that critical care nurses with 20 years of experience earn over $40 an hour.
The BLS projects that all registered nurses positions, including critical care nurse jobs, will grow by 7% from 2019 to 2029.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to become a critical care nurse?
A critical care nurse requires an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing, which typically takes 2-4 years to complete. Along with this, a nurse needs to pass the NCLEX-RN exam to get their registered nurse license. Depending on the state or employer, healthcare facilities may also require certification from the AACN, which calls for a minimum of two years of professional experience.
Is a graduate degree required to become a critical care nurse?
A critical care nurse with a graduate degree has the ability to pick from a larger pool of job opportunities, but a graduate degree isn’t required to be a critical care nurse. A graduate degree, such as an MSN prepares nurses by providing them with additional education and training before starting their career.
What career advancement opportunities are available for critical care nurses?
More career opportunities open up for critical care nurses when they pursue higher education. Critical care nurses can specialize in specific fields like cardiac or neonatal. Critical care nurses who possess a master’s degree or doctorate have the option of working as a critical care nurse practitioner.
Resources for Critical Care Nurses
American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)The AACN community supports acute and critical care nurses with resources and information to help provide the optimal care for their patients. The non-profit organization has a website where nurses can post and talk about everything related to the nursing field. Any practicing or retired critical care nurse is eligible to join after paying a fee.
AACN Online CoursesThe AACN has various online courses available for nurses who want to further educate themselves on certain subjects. Classes offered include the essentials of ECG and dysrhythmia monitoring and fundamentals skills for nurse managers. The courses currently range from 3 to 75 hours of continuing education credit.
Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM)Boasting more than 16,000 members in over 100 countries, SCCM offers critical care nurses a massive professional healthcare community. Members of the SCCM can choose from three different membership plans; associate, professional, and select. Each member can utilize SCCM resources and online courses to improve their healthcare skills.
World Federation of Critical Care Nurses (WFCCN)Founded in Sydney, Australia, The WFCCN is an international federation for critical care providers. They support their community members by maintaining international cooperation between healthcare professionals, institutions, facilities, and charities that involve critical care. Any healthcare organization or individual that contributes to the critical care community can apply for membership.
Nicole Galan, RN, MSN
Nicole Galan is a registered nurse who earned a master's degree in nursing education from Capella University and currently works as a full-time freelance writer. Throughout her nursing career, Galan worked in a general medical/surgical care unit and then in infertility care. She has also worked for over 13 years as a freelance writer specializing in consumer health sites and educational materials for nursing students.
Galan is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners.
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