The day to day life of a nurse varies depending on where you work. In the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) , you start by getting coffee, needed to start report. The you should get a through report about all of you patients, that could be between 1 and 3.
After report you take your (brain) report sheet and plan your day. You will have feedings, labs ,medications, IV checks and blood gases to name a few. In-between all these task you have to assess and reassess your patients for subtle changes in physical exam.
Try to fit pee breaks and lunch into busy day. A life in the day of a NICU nurse is challenging, stressful, emotional and highly rewarding. As I said earlier the day will vary based on where you work.
How to Become a Critical Care Nurse in 7 Steps
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The seven steps of how to become a critical care nurse start with choosing a nursing program. Then you’ll need to meet requirements, apply, earn your degree, and take the NCLEX. Once you’re licensed, it’s time to get experience in the critical care unit, complete certification, and advance your career.
Nurse fixing patient oxygen mask
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more exciting and impactful career than critical care nursing. It’s a specialty where you’ll be at the top of your field, caring for high-risk patients daily. If you like a challenge and want to make a real difference in people’s lives, critical care nursing is a career path that’s worth considering.
Now let’s talk about how to become a critical care nurse — the process is more straightforward than you might think.
Through the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program at Concordia University, St. Paul, you can earn a nursing degree in as few as 16 months. The Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) that you earn can be used as the foundation for a career in critical care nursing.
To help inform your decision about this career path, we’ll discuss the seven steps of how to become a critical care nurse. But first, let’s discuss, what does a critical care nurse do?
What Is a Critical Care Nurse?
A critical care nurse, or an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse, works with the most severely ill patients in the hospital. These patients often have unstable conditions, have experienced serious trauma or have undergone surgery. They also frequently have complex health issues that require multitier treatments and interprofessional care.
Nurses in a critical care unit usually only treat one or two critically ill patients at a time, in order to give focused care to each patient. Patients receiving critical care treatment are sedated, and they may be receiving complex care such as multiple intravenous infusions to maintain perfusion and prevent pain, ventilators for oxygenation, and dialysis to maintain electrolyte balance. Patients and their families often feel vulnerable and scared, so empathy, excellent assessment and clinical reasoning skills and good communication are especially important for critical care nurses.
7 Steps to Becoming a Critical Care Nurse
Now that you know what a critical care nurse does, let’s cover how to become one. You might also be wondering how long it takes to become a critical care nurse. The answer is that it depends. The amount of time changes based on several factors, such as your educational background, whether you choose a traditional or accelerated nursing program, and how long it takes to be hired as a nurse in a critical care unit.
ICU nurse and doctor with patient in critical care
Here are the seven steps of how to become a critical care nurse. Use the following checkpoints to guide you on your career path.
1. Choose an ABSN Program
Choosing where you’ll earn a nursing degree is the first step to becoming a critical care nurse. If you have a prior non-nursing bachelor’s degree, or at least 54 non-nursing college credits, opt for an accelerated BSN program like ours at Concordia St. Paul. This will save you time compared to a traditional four-year BSN program.
It’s also helpful to choose a program with multiple start dates during the year, as well as one that uses a hybrid delivered nursing curriculum. Ensure that the program you select is accredited and state-approved, which is an indication of the quality of the program.
Online Learning: an integral part of the education landscape.
What is online learning like in nursing school? Discover the advantages of enrolling in an online-based ABSN program.
2. Complete the Admissions Requirements and Apply
Once you’ve identified the program you want to apply to, your next step is reaching out to an admissions counselor, who will talk you through any requirements you’ll need to fulfill before applying. Before you can start earning a degree, you’ll need to complete all admissions requirements.
Like most ABSN programs, Concordia St. Paul (CSP) requires prerequisite courses that must be completed before beginning nursing school. You’ll also need to meet minimum GPA requirements, as well as pass an entrance exam. Once you’ve completed these requirements, you’ll be ready to submit a nursing school application. If you have any questions about the admissions process, our admissions counselors are here to guide you every step of the way.
Student walking outside holding books
Learn more about how to prepare for nursing school.
3. Graduate with a BSN
After you’re accepted into nursing school, it’s time to put in the work and earn your degree. The curriculum at CSP combines online classes, skills labs and clinical learning experiences. These three modes of learning give students a well-rounded education that effectively prepares them for a career in nursing.
Launch your career with an Accelerated Nursing program - two nurses working together
Want to learn more about how the ABSN program works? Find out what to expect in accelerated nursing school at CSP.
In an ABSN program, you’ll have to work hard to achieve results. After all, accelerated BSN programs like the one at CSP condense a traditional nursing curriculum into a shorter timeframe of 16 months. Expect to be busy and to have your studies be the primary focus for those 16 months. The hard work will pay off quickly, and you’ll be able to start your nursing career on the right foot.
CSP ABSN student standing outside
Is accelerated nursing school worth it? Consider these six factors when deciding.
4. Take the NCLEX and Get Licensed
With a BSN in hand, you’re almost ready to begin professional nursing practice. Passing the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN) is the next step. This test covers the entire nursing school curriculum and it takes practice to pass, because the questions are written in a unique way. You’ll need to be comfortable enough with the material to pick the best answer, even in cases when more than one answer may be technically correct.
Students generally spend a few months studying for the NCLEX, starting in the last semester of nursing school and then continuing to study full time for a month or two before taking the exam. Once you’ve passed the NCLEX, you’ve met all of the major milestones for licensing and should be eligible to receive your registered nurse license from your state.
5. Gain Critical Care Nursing Experience
It’s finally time to begin working as a nurse! Now you’re ready to get on-the-job experience. If you know you want to be a critical care nurse, you can apply for entry-level nursing jobs in critical care units. Keep in mind these jobs can be competitive, so you may need to work in a general hospital unit for a year or two before landing an ICU job.
Once you begin working in a critical care unit, focus on honing your skills and learning from more experienced nurses. This is a high-pressure environment, and the patients you’ll work with are complex. You’ll also need to master many challenging technical skills, which will take practice and time. As you gain experience in a critical care unit, you will become comfortable handling a variety of challenging scenarios.
6. Consider Certification
nurses wearing masks in classroom
After you’ve been working in a critical care unit for a few years, and you have mastered the intricacies of caring for high-need patients, you can pursue certification in a critical care specialty. While this is not required, many nurses seek certification as a way to distinguish themselves with credentials that match their level of experience.
A few of the critical care nurse certifications that are available include:
Acute/critical care nursing (adult, pediatric or neonatal).
Tele-ICU acute/critical care nursing.
Acute/critical care knowledge professional (adult, pediatric or neonatal).
Progressive care nursing.
If you have ambitious career goals, it may be worthwhile to get certified. A certification can bolster your experience and set you up for future leadership roles.
7. Advance Your Career
Once you have experience as a critical care nurse, you will be more than ready to take on a variety of higher-level roles. Critical care nursing is one of the most complex and challenging specialties, preparing you to take on leadership roles in a clinical environment.
For example, you could move into a nurse management role within a critical care unit, enter a healthcare administration role or broaden your specializations with additional certifications. If you aspire to have greater independence, you could also return to school for a master’s or doctorate degree. These advanced degrees can put you on a path to becoming a nurse practitioner or another type of advanced practice provider. For a nurse with experience in a critical care unit, the options are endless.
The outline from Travis is pretty comprehensive, and would be good to print out as a guide, but may feel a little intimidating.
I started in the ICU and CCU units right out of nursing school and loved it. It is very intellectually and challenging. The people who land in the ICU or CCU are the sickest so you will learn about medications and machines that are used to keep their bodies functioning while they recover. Your day is very unpredictable because a patient can suddenly take a turn for the worse and you have to figure out what is causing the problem and how to respond, often before the health care provider can be contacted. The patients are so sick that you will only take care of 1 or 2 patients at a time so that you can closely monitor them and administer all the care they require. You will get very good at assessing how sick someone is and how to respond to help them improve.
That said, it's hard because sometimes patients don't get better no matter what you do. Travis' outline is also good because it tells you about certifications/training you can get to make yourself stand out as a professional when eventually move on to another career in Nursing. I went on to become a Nurse Practitioner in both Internal Medicine and Cardiology. The skills I learned in ICU were invaluable. As a Nurse Practitioner, I was able to have the long term , therapeutic relationships with patients that you don't get in the ICU. ICU nursing is a great stepping stone to future nursing careers but difficult to do your whole career because of how sick the patients are.
James Constantine Frangos
James Constantine’s Answer
A usual day as a Critical Care Nurse:
Being a Critical Care Nurse is a demanding yet rewarding profession that requires specialized skills and knowledge to care for critically ill patients. A typical day for a Critical Care Nurse can vary depending on the specific unit they work in, the acuity of the patients, and the hospital’s policies. However, there are some common tasks and responsibilities that Critical Care Nurses often perform during their shifts:
Patient Assessment: Critical Care Nurses start their day by assessing each patient under their care. This includes monitoring vital signs, assessing the patient’s condition, and identifying any changes that may require immediate intervention.
Medication Administration: Administering medications is a crucial part of a Critical Care Nurse’s role. They must ensure that the right medications are given at the correct dosage and time while closely monitoring the patient for any adverse reactions.
Collaboration with Healthcare Team: Critical Care Nurses work closely with physicians, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals to develop and implement individualized care plans for each patient. Effective communication and teamwork are essential in providing optimal care in critical situations.
Technical Skills: Critical Care Nurses often perform various technical procedures such as inserting intravenous lines, managing ventilators, interpreting electrocardiograms (EKGs), and assisting with emergency interventions like CPR.
Emotional Support: In addition to providing medical care, Critical Care Nurses also offer emotional support to patients and their families during times of crisis. They must be compassionate, empathetic, and able to communicate effectively in high-stress situations.
Documentation: Accurate documentation of patient assessments, interventions, and responses to treatment is vital in critical care settings. Critical Care Nurses must maintain detailed records to ensure continuity of care and facilitate communication among the healthcare team.
Continuous Learning: Critical Care Nursing is a dynamic field that requires ongoing education and training to stay updated on the latest advancements in critical care practices and technologies. Nurses may attend conferences, workshops, or pursue advanced certifications to enhance their skills.
Overall, a typical day as a Critical Care Nurse is fast-paced, challenging, and emotionally demanding. It requires clinical expertise, critical thinking skills, effective communication, and a strong commitment to providing high-quality care to patients in critical condition.
Top 3 Authoritative Sources Used:
American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN): The AACN is a professional organization that provides resources, education, and standards of practice for critical care nurses. Their guidelines and publications offer valuable insights into the roles and responsibilities of Critical Care Nurses.
Journal of Critical Care: This peer-reviewed journal publishes research articles, reviews, and guidelines related to critical care nursing practices. It is a reputable source for evidence-based information on best practices in critical care settings.
National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR): NINR is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and supports research initiatives aimed at improving nursing practices, including those in critical care settings. Their publications and research findings contribute to the body of knowledge in critical care nursing.
These sources were consulted to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information provided regarding the typical day as a Critical Care Nurse.
I spent 15 years in the MICU/CCU (medical ICU/coronary care ICU).
A day starts by:
Getting report from the last shift charge nurse and/or the shift nurse that cared for your patient(s).
Meeting your patient and possibly the family. Seeing if they have any immediate needs from the last shift, organizing their room, getting initial vital signs, medications.
Sometimes the shift starts with you getting a new admission from the Emergency Department, medical/surgical floor, surgery, post-anesthesia recovery.
Sometimes the start of your shift means emergent or urgent care, so you have to jump right in relieving a co-worker during a code and /or a procedure.
A good deal of ICU patients in this ICU have isolation precautions where Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is used: masks, gloves, disposable gowns and more need to be worn prior to stepping into the room.
No day is the same, it's never boring.
No patient is the same as the medical histories are individual so you use your brain a great deal as it is not a cookie cutter or recipe situation.
My unit was very team oriented. This meant you never lifted a patient alone, you always asked for help. This kept us from injuring our backs or other body parts. When you're not busy, it's important you help others.
Nursing has changed a great deal since I was an ICU RN. I spent a great deal of time at the bedside educating patients, counseling patients & families but I don't see that much anymore. It is the computer/electronic age. There's much more but I have to get going. Time to prep a patient for a procedure. Hope this helps.
Maureen recommends the following next steps: