A few years ago, when you heard the word “hero” you first thought might have been about someone in a cape. These days, we know many of our heroes wear scrubs. If you want to make a difference in the world and in your community, consider the role of a critical care nurse. Critical care nurses work with people fighting life threatening medical emergencies. Their hard work and passion has an enormous impact on patients as well as their loved ones.
But what does a critical care nurse actually do day to day? What does it take to become a critical care nurse? We’ve put together an outline of everything you need to know about critical care nursing. Whether you are already in nursing school considering a specialty, or just beginning to think about a future in healthcare, take a few minutes to explore critical care nursing, a profession with unique boots-on-the-ground impact on people in some of their biggest moments of crisis.
What is a critical care nurse?
Critical care nurses are registered nurses (RNs) that treat patients with acute and serious illnesses or injuries. The term “critical” is used by healthcare providers to communicate broadly about the severity of a patient’s condition. Typically, a patient that requires “critical care” has unstable vital signs, may be unconscious, and has unfavorable indicators for a positive health outcome. In less technical language, “critical care” is given to patients who are at a significantly higher risk of not surviving their illness or injury.
Critical care nurses have been specially trained to handle these emergency care situations. They provide both important medical care and monitoring, as well as support to patients and their families. Critical care nurses work in a very high stress environment in a dynamic and highly important role.
“Critical care nurses are tasked with some of the highest responsibilities in the profession of nursing,” explains Nicholas McGowan, a nursing educator at Critical Care Academy and experienced intensive care unit (ICU) nurse. “This is where the greatest breadth of knowledge, competency, and skill are required in order to keep the patient alive and comfortable with their dignity intact.”
Where do critical care nurses work?
Critical care nurses work in many locations—but you’ll primarily find them in a hospital setting. Many critical care nurses work in a hospital’s general ICU, but emergency departments, neonatal ICUs, pediatric ICUs, cardiac care units, telemetry units, managed care facilities, urgent care clinics, outpatient surgery centers and recovery rooms may also require specially trained critical care nurses.
Critical care nurses may specialize in adult critical care, pediatric critical care, or geriatric critical care depending on which patient population they want to work with.