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Critical Care Nurse: Education and Career Information

If you thrive off of excitement and are concerned with the well-being of others, you may want to pursue a career as a critical care nurse. This is a specialized position that deals with life and death situations and is at the forefront of a crisis. Being a nurse can also be financially rewarding, with extra incentives offered for specializations.

What does a critical care nurse do?

Critical care nurses work with patients who face life-threatening situations. They handle high-risk situations for the acute and critically ill, and work with their families in providing optimal care. Critical care nurses work in stressful environments where tension is high, the mood is high-intensity, and patients must be monitored around the clock. They work as a patient advocate to support the patient and their family at all times. Other duties of a critical care nurse:

•Work in the best interest of the patient
•Make sure the patient gets the best care
•Intervenes when necessary on behalf of the patient
•Provides education to the patient and family to help make informed decisions
•Represents the patient based on their choices
•Monitors the patient
•Acts as a liaison on behalf of the patient

You can find critical care nurses in a variety of settings, including intensive care units, cardiac care units, emergency rooms, recovery rooms, nursing schools, home healthcare agencies, managed care companies and neonatal ICUs. There is no limit to where this specialty position can work.

How much does a critical care nurse earn?

Critical care nurses are also known as intensive care unit nurses. On the low end, they can make $47,000, but on the high end, they make up to $90,000 per year or better based on what type of facility they work in, their level of education, the location and their years of experience. Glassdoor places their hourly wage between $25.96 per hour and $33.84 per hour.

What skills are needed to become a critical care nurse?

This is a highly specialized position that is also very demanding. There are a number of skills needed to be successful in this role:

Organization: A critical care nurse must be organized, as they are dealing with a number of patients at one time, their families and other healthcare professionals. They must be able to remember details and facts, and organize charts and other services to make sure the patient is being properly cared for.

Stress Management: Because this position works in highly stressed areas, the critical care nurse must be focused and work well under pressure. The stress level can be overwhelming, but the critical care nurse must be able to keep a level head and their emotions in check when dealing with patients and crisis situations.

Compassion: It is important to have compassion for both the patient and their families, as they are already dealing with traumatic situations. As the patient advocate and voice, having a high level of compassion for every circumstance is essential.

Communication: A critical care nurse must be able to communicate on all levels with the patient, healthcare professionals, social service workers and family members. They must be able to write well and speak well to make sure everyone is on the same page. They must also have a high proficiency in reading and following directives.

Attention to Detail: When patients are in trauma, making sure you are aware of everything going on with them is key. The critical care nurse must check the patient on a continuous basis and monitor them to be aware of any dire situations or potential issues that may occur. In a crisis situation, it only takes a second for things to go awry. An alert and on-task critical care nurse will foresee these issues and already be prepared to spring into action.

Physical Endurance: A critical care nurse may run from one side of the facility to the other when dealing with crisis situations. They must be able to lift, bend, run and move at fast paces to keep up with everything that is happening. Having physical endurance is a must for this position.

Decision Making Skills: There are times when the patient does not have a designated representative. The critical care nurse must step in and assist with getting the resources in place and in making the decisions that will work on behalf of the patient.

Internship Requirements

There are a number of clinical rotations required and internship hours to complete based on the program.

Educational Requirements

The first step in becoming a critical care nurse is to attend nursing school and getting a bachelor’s degree. Coursework in this program includes:

•Anatomy
•Microbiology
•Physiology
•Psychology
•Chemistry
•Nutrition
•Social and behavioral sciences

You will also take classes in mental health, nursing ethics and pharmacology. Doing some clinical rotations in this program are required.

Once this has been obtained, you will have to pass the NCLEX-RN and pass the credentialing exam in your state. Most critical care nurses return to school to obtain a master’s degree in critical care, which is an additional two years. This also involves getting certified in advanced cardiac life support through the American Heart Association, and the American Association of Critical Nurses.

Throughout the master’s program, you should attempt to obtain more work experience in the field, which will assist in acute care. Coursework during the program includes trauma nursing and clinical pathophysiology.

Although challenging, this could be a very rewarding career path for someone who wish to become a nurse and wants the high-paced environment of a trauma unit. Working in this capacity helps develop skills for advancement to work in any capacity as a nurse. Getting additional certifications will build credibility and position you for growth that could reap great financial rewards. If you’re ready for a challenge, this could be the job for you!

Nursing Scholarships

American Assembly for Men in Nursing (AAMN) American Cancer Society Doctoral Degree Scholarships in Cancer Nursing Gallagher Student Health Careers Scholarship
The Gates Millenium Scholars (GMS) National Black Nurses Association (NBNA) National Student Nurses’ Association (NSNA)
New Careers in Nursing (NCIN) Nurse Corps Scholarship (NCS) Nurses of Tomorrow
Nursing Economics Foundation Tylenol Future Care Scholarship American Holistic Nurses Association
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Quick Fact
In 2018, workers with a bachelor's degree or higher had almost twice as much
median earnings per week than workers with only a high school diploma.*
*Bureau of Labor Statistics

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