JAANUU » What Is an ICU Nurse and How Do You Become One? 

What Is an ICU Nurse and How Do You Become One? 

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If you’re asking yourself if intensive care unit (ICU) nursing is right for you, you’ve come to the right place. 

In this article, we’ll delve into all the details of this fast-paced career and bring you up to speed on the skills you need to be an ICU nurse, as well as the steps to take to become one. If you’re a great critical thinker who loves a challenge, we think you should definitely read on.

What is an ICU nurse?

An ICU nurse is a healthcare professional with advanced skills. These nurses are directly responsible for working with severely ill patients who often have life-threatening conditions. That means ICU nurses are highly trained and have the kind of specialized knowledge necessary to perform this kind of delicate work. 

Patients depend on ICU nurses, so these healthcare professionals are absolute rock stars when it comes to making sound, informed decisions quickly. 

What does an ICU nurse do?

ICU nurses are responsible for a wide range of specialized tasks. Below, we’ll highlight some of the key patient care activities they perform.

  • Keep records 
  • Monitor patients’ conditions and any changes to them 
  • Administer IV medication and other types of similar treatments approved by a physician 
  • Determine a patient’s level of pain 
  • Communicate a patient’s condition and progress to doctors 
  • Communicate with and emotionally support patients’ families
  • Assess lab work 
  • Take vital signs 
  • Set up devices and equipment like ventilators and pressure lines

What are the roles and duties of an ICU nurse?

Here we’ll list some of the important tasks that ICU nurses do all day (and you can probably think of a few already), but being a great healthcare professional really comes down to how you perform those tasks. So, what are some of the roles of an ICU nurse that make these professionals successful at their job

  • They love their work: Being an ICU nurse is a tough, but rewarding, job. It requires a high level of skill and emotional investment. This career may not be for everyone, but if you feel passionate about and are able to help those who need it most—even when it’s difficult—it’s likely for you. 
  • They work well in a team: Intensive care unit nurses are part of a large team that includes everyone from other nurses to specialists and physicians. ICU nurses must be able to communicate effectively and keep everyone in the know on a patient’s condition.
  • They’re organized and prepared: ICU nurses must be highly skilled in order to correctly respond in stressful, sensitive situations. So, coming to the job prepared and with the right credentials is essential. They also need to stay organized on the job. Situations in a critical care unit are always changing, and when you’re organized you can react quickly and safely.
  • They take good care of themselves: Self-care is essential for all of us, so it should go without saying that someone in a very stressful role like ICU nursing is going to need a whole lot of yoga and hot baths. Whatever your self-care thing is, make sure you take care of yourself so that you can take care of others without overdoing it.  

What are the educational requirements for an ICU nurse?

Ready to learn how to become an ICU nurse? As with most nursing careers, your path to becoming an ICU nurse will start with getting a degree. This could be a diploma from an approved program, an associate’s degree in nursing, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). 

Then, you’ll have to put yourself to the test. You will have to pass the NCLEX, but this should be a breeze for you. Might we recommend sitting for the exam in some comfortable scrubs to keep your nerves relaxed and your head in the game?

You may also need to get a license from your state, but this will depend on where you live. Be sure to check out your state’s requirements before getting started on your career path. 

Where do ICU nurses work?

As the name implies, ICU nurses primarily work in the—surprise!—ICU. But, there are different types of healthcare facilities with intensive care units, so this doesn’t necessarily mean you’d be working in a hospital. And, while at work, you may need to move between other departments like emergency or surgery. 

There are also different specialties of intensive care unit nursing, which we’ll delve into below. So, even if all your work happens in the ICU, it could be with distinct populations of patients. 

What specialties exist for ICU nurses?

Specializations are one of the joys of many nursing careers. You can get closer to exactly what you want to do and work with the populations that most interest you. Here are some of the top specializations for ICU nurses:

  • Postoperative care 
  • Pediatric care
  • Emergency room support
  • Neonatal care
  • Cardiac care
  • Cardiothoracic care

What is the career outlook for an ICU nurse?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the availability of registered nurse work is set to increase 9% by 2030, so the job outlook is promising. 

Money on your mind? We totally understand. The annual salary of critical care nurses or ICU nurses can range from the $60,000-$90,000 range. 
Best of luck to you, always, and as you take on this next career adventure, count on us to always have your back (and your scrubs).

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