A nurse working in the Intensive Care Unit, or ICU, provides total patient care for critically ill patients, including medications, orders and treatments. An ICU nurse assists physicians in performing special procedures, closely monitors the patient for changes in his condition, and assists in emergency nursing procedures as necessary. ICU nurses provide the highest level of care to critical care patients and their families.
Work Environment and Job Duties
Intensive care units are clean and quiet. ICU nurses usually work indoors in temperature-controlled environments. These nurses enjoy the company of other medical professionals while caring for a wide variety of patients and their families.
ICU nurses generally work with fewer patients than do nurses in other hospital units, but ICU patients are usually sicker and require constant monitoring and assessment. ICU nurses monitor life support equipment and provide advanced life support to critically ill patients. These nurses also attend to wounds and quickly respond to changing patient conditions. ICU nurses document changes to the patient’s condition and all interactions accurately to give the attending physician an accurate picture of patient health.
ICU nursing requires an analytical mind, but it also requires physical strength and a great deal of human compassion. An ICU nurse spends much of his day on his feet, walking from room to room, pulling patients up in bed or sliding patients onto gurneys. An ICU nurse also acts as a patient advocate, protecting patient dignity and offering accurate, timely information to patients and family members.
Requirements and Education
Some hospitals allow registered nurses to work in critical care units. A registered nurse may pursue certification to verify that she meets professional standards for working in an intensive care setting. These certification programs typically require work experience in a critical care setting, passing a rigorous written exam, and engaging in continuing education courses.
Many ICU nurses have advanced degrees and specialty certifications, such as a master’s or a doctoral degree in acute care settings. Some become clinical nurse specialists or acute-care practitioners, positions that require a high degree of proficiency and responsibility, but offer lucrative financial incentives and high worker satisfaction.
Salary and Career Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment of registered nurses in general to rise 26 percent between 2010 and 2020, “faster than the average for all occupations.” Because of their experience with critical care patients and proficiency with the sophisticated equipment these patients require, most ICU nurses feel comfortable working as a team leader in other areas of healthcare.
An ICU nurse with an advanced degree and solid clinical experience usually advances quickly to supervisory roles within any healthcare institution. These nurses often become team leaders, head nurses or hospital administrators. ICU nurses typically enjoy robust wages, pleasant working conditions, quick professional advancement and the respect of their co-workers.