What is an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Nurse?

Caring for the needs of critically ill or injured patients is the responsibility of an ICU nurse. Nursing careers that involve working in the intensive care unit require specialized knowledge and training to provide emergency care and to identify when a doctor is needed for a patient. Obtaining certification to provide care as an ICU nurse will result in a greater amount of responsibility toward a patient.

Education Requirements

The educational requirements for an ICU nurse will depend on the hospital.  The road to becoming an ICU nurse requires a minimum of an associate degree in nursing. Although an associate degree will provide the opportunity to obtain a license and begin working as a nurse, some hospitals might require a bachelor’s degree or years of experience before a nurse can begin working in the intensive care unit.

After obtaining a degree, every registered nurse is required to take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN exam, to obtain a license to work as a nurse. The license is the first step towards working in the intensive care unit, but it is not the only certification requirement.

An ICU nurse must obtain a certification in Advanced Cardiac Life Support or Pediatric Advanced Life Support to begin working in different areas of the intensive care unit. Obtaining both certifications will provide more flexibility, but is not required to begin working as a nurse.

Although the educational requirements relate primarily to certification after a degree, hospitals will often require some work experience before allowing a nurse to work in the intensive care unit. The hands-on experience can vary based on the specific needs of the hospital.

Career Options: What You Can Do With An ICU Certification

After obtaining the certification to work in the intensive care unit, nursing careers will become available. According to The American Association of Critical Care Nurses, critical care nurses have a few opportunities to work in different departments of the hospital.

A large number of ICU nurses will work directly in the intensive care unit of a hospital. The specialized certification allows a nurse to provide assistance to doctors in emergency situations, monitor critically ill or injured patients and help patients with their needs during their stay in the intensive care unit.

According to The American Association of Critical Care Nurses, nurses will also have opportunities to work in transitional units after a doctor determines that a patient is no longer in critical condition. Nurses will also have opportunities to work in emergency rooms or within a post-operative recovery unit within the hospital.

An ICU nurse has many opportunities within a hospital setting. The specialized skills make an ICU nurse a valuable member of the hospital staff.

What To Consider If You Pursue An ICU Certification

Working in the intensive care unit requires more than just specialized knowledge and certification. It is important to consider the salary and potential for career growth before making any decisions about the best nursing career.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a registered nurse has an average salary of $64,690 per year. While the average can seem reasonable, an ICU nurse should expect a slightly higher salary than average due to the specialized skills and knowledge.

Although the salary is an important consideration, nurses should also consider the opportunities for growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for registered nurses is 26 percent. That is higher than the national average for jobs in general and suggests that nurses will have many opportunities to pursue interests and growth in the future.

Nursing careers have a wide range of opportunities, particularly in critical and intensive care. Nurses can pursue certification and begin working in the intensive care unit to provide advanced care to patients. Although it can seem like a stressful position, nurses in the intensive care unit have the opportunity to help patients who are facing severe injuries or critical illnesses.

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