What is Critical Care Nursing?

Critical care nursing professionals take care of patients that require intensive and continuous nursing and complex high-intensity therapies. Critical care nursing professionals practice in intensive care unit (ICU) settings where individuals need continuous vigilance and complex assessments. Because this nursing specialization typically involves the care of patients who are seriously ill or injured, critical care nurses rely on specific experience and skills when completing their daily tasks.

Critical Care Nursing in History

Even though there have always been severely ill or injured individuals who need care, the overall concept of critical care nursing is relatively modern. As technological advancements in the fields of medicine and surgery have occurred, they have paved the way for a more complex form of nursing care, thus leading to nursing jobs in this specialized field. Such nurses are needed not only to monitor patients but also to administer treatments and evaluate the result of the use of various medicines prescribed by the patient’s doctor.

Featured Programs

The first intensive care unit was created in 1954, with the goal of providing care to seriously ill or injured men and women who required one-on-one care from a registered nurse. It was from this environment that the specialty of intensive care nursing emerged.

Critical Care Nursing Education Requirements

To qualify for nursing jobs in an intensive care unit or critical care facility, one must first become a registered nurse–RN–by attending an appropriate accredited college or nursing school and earning an associate’s, bachelor’s, or Master’s degree in nursing science or a similar discipline.

Nurses must also pass the licensing exam in the state in which they plan to practice. Requirements vary from one state to the next, depending on the specific regulations set by that state’s Board of Nursing. In certain states, nurses need a master’s degree or a doctorate to work in an intensive care unit. It is essential for all prospective nurses to inquire about such requirements in advance.

How Long Does Critical Care Nurse Training Take?

Many nursing schools expose students to critical and intensive care practices. However, to work as a professional critical care nurse, individuals need additional education and training. In certain states, nurses can get this experience from their employers. But other states require nurses to take additional classes.

American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) Examination

According to the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN), the examination goes beyond the basic memorization of concepts. It also includes the application of principles, and therefore many of the questions on the test feature a “what would you do in this scenario?” format.

Other questions present data on various patients. These include lab values, symptoms, and blood gas levels. Furthermore, applicants must respond with a hypothetical answer and recommend the care plan for the patient. Fortunately, the AACN offers a self-assessment exam–SAE–to students who wish to test their skills and knowledge before scheduling the actual examination.

Critical Care Certification

Even though certification is not mandatory in every state for one to practice in a nursing specialization such as critical care, numerous nursing professionals seek certification regardless. This is because certain facilities and employers prefer to hire only those nurses who have become certified. This is likely because such professionals have demonstrated, through completion of a rigorous certification course, that they have a high level of knowledge in the field in which they wish to specialize.

For instance, an intensive care nursing professional must care for critically ill or injured patients for at least two years before they can take the certification test, which is typically offered by AACN.

Continuing Education

As issues relating to the care of critically ill individuals become increasingly complex and new treatments and technologies are introduced, nurses in the field of critical care must become more knowledgeable on a continuous basis.

Certified critical care nurses validate their knowledge of current practices and acute care through continuing education courses and seminars. In addition, they meet clinical experience requirements by earning continuing education credits on an annual basis.

Critical Care Nursing Jobs

The current nursing shortage underway in the United States is especially serious in specialty fields such as critical care. ICUs throughout the country are understaffed and need more help. Requests for help primarily come from adult, neonatal, and pediatric intensive care units, or emergency departments in general hospitals.

Recruitment advertising for critical care nurses is also growing on a continuous basis. A higher number of both private and public hospitals are providing critical care nurses highly attractive salaries, sign-on bonuses, incentives, benefits packages, and reimbursement for relocation to motivate them to join their particular facility.

Additionally, numerous hospitals and similar facilities are offering critical care internship programs for the purpose of both attracting and preparing newly licensed and experienced nurses to work in their hospitals.

Where Do Critical Care Nurses Work?

Almost 60 percent of all registered nurses work in hospitals. However, critical care nurses typically work with seriously ill and injured patients. They are in emergency departments, progressive care units, cardiac catheter labs, cardiac care units, telemetry departments and intensive care units. In addition, there are also more critical care nurses in home health care, nursing schools, and outpatient surgery clinics.

Future of Critical Care Nursing

Rapid advances in medical technology allow patients to return home sooner from the hospital after serious illnesses or surgeries. A recent trend in critical care is limiting the time in a hospital setting. Intensive Care Units are increasing the care patients get at home and limiting hospital stays.

Naturally, this requires a critical care nurse to make home visits. Thus, there are many job opportunities available in the home health care field for these specialized nurses. However, patients in ICUs or on critical care floors require constant nursing supervision. Therefore there is a need for critical care nurses in essentially every US hospital. Because the nursing profession is growing at a rapid pace, there are many opportunities are available in this field.