Nursing Careers: Critical Care Nurse

By University Alliance
Critical Care Nurse

Critical care nursing is a complex and challenging nurse specialty to which many registered nurses (RNs) aspire. Also known as ICU nurses, critical care nurses use their advanced skills to care for patients who are critically ill and at high risk for life-threatening health problems.

Critical Care Nurse Duties and Responsibilities

When a patient suffers a heart attack, stroke, shock, severe trauma, respiratory distress or other severe medical issue, it is vital that they receive immediate and intensive nursing care. Critical care nurses are adept at providing such care in settings where patients can be given complex assessments and treatment. 

Specific critical care nurse duties and responsibilities can include:

  • Assessing a patient’s condition and planning and implementing patient care plans
  • Treating wounds and providing advanced life support
  • Assisting physicians in performing procedures
  • Observing and recording patient vital signs
  • Ensuring that ventilators, monitors and other types of medical equipment function properly
  • Administering intravenous fluids and medications
  • Ordering diagnostic tests
  • Collaborating with fellow members of the critical care team
  • Responding to life-saving situations, using nursing standards and protocols for treatment
  • Acting as patient advocate
  • Providing education and support to patient families

Critical care nurses may also care for pre- and post-operative patients. In addition, some serve as case managers and policy makers, while others perform administrative duties.

Check out the new Nursing Specialization Career Guide

Requirements and Qualifications for Critical Care Nurses

Critical care nurses must first be registered nurses (RNs) with experience in general patient care. Because of the complexity of patient care involved in this specialty, many employers hiring critical care nurses can show preference to applicants with Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees. Some nurse education programs offer courses in critical care, but many practitioners learn through field training in a hospital setting.

Many critical care nurses choose to earn the Certified Critical Care Nurse (CCRN) designation offered through the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN).

Characteristics and Skills of Critical Care Nurses

Critical care nurses must be proficient in a wide variety of high-level nursing skills. They need to be experts in evaluating intensive care patients, administering care, recognizing complications and coordinating with other members of the critical care team. Successful critical care nurses also excel at interpersonal communication, leadership, strategic planning, critical thinking and decision-making.

RN Salary Range

According to May 2014 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for a critical care nurse was $97,990. The bottom 10% of critical care nurses earned an average of $68,830 a year, while the top-10% of ICU's earned $131,050 annually. Because of their specialized nature, advanced education and daily responsibilities, critical care nurses typically have higher earning potential than their traditional RN counterparts. 

Because salary potential may vary depending on location, education and experience, prospective students are encouraged to conduct independent research to determine actual earning potential.

Work Environment

Critical care nurses work in emergency rooms, critical care wards, walk-in clinics, doctor offices and other healthcare settings. Because patients are treated around the clock, critical care nurses are usually required to work rotating shifts that include days, nights, weekends and holidays. The job can be physically demanding, as well, requiring standing, lifting, bending and stretching.

Critical Care Nurses are in Demand

Rapid advances in technology and healthcare have made it possible to save more patients and help them return to health. As a result, critical care nurses are often in demand across the country. In some areas, they are needed to fill acute staffing shortages. If you’re an RN looking to advance your education and broaden your career opportunities, critical care nursing could be the right specialty for you. Get started toward earning your BSN degree by applying for Villanova University's RN to BSN online program.


Category: Nursing