What is an ICU Nurse?

An ICU nurse is a nurse who works on an intensive care unit or in an intensive care facility. Also known as critical care nurses, they work with patients suffering from serious injuries and those struggling with illnesses and diseases that may lead to their death. While you can work in many hospitals and medical offices with a nursing degree, you need to gain more experience before applying for one of these positions. Nurses working in the ICU field generally need several years of experience and some certification too.

Where They Work

ICU and critical care nurses often work in hospitals that have floors and units dedicated to patients who need more serious or around the clock care. According to the American Association of Critical Care Nurses, more than 56% of all these nurses work in hospitals. They may work in the ICU department but they also have the chance to work in other departments of the hospital, including the pediatric ICU ward or the emergency room. Some hospitals actually hire critical care nurses as floaters. Floaters will spend their shifts working on different floors and in departments based on the needs of the hospital.

Job Duties

An ICU nurse will do more on a typical shift than just take a patient’s vital signs and check in on that patient. Those working in dedicated ICU units and wards will speak with patients, take their medical histories and create a potential treatment plan that they share with the doctor. Nurses are also responsible for taking care of any wounds or injuries that patients present with until the doctor arrives. They must also monitor patients throughout the day and night and contact a doctor as needed. Other duties of the job include recording vital signs, talking with patients’ families and administering medications.

Becoming One

The steps necessary for becoming an ICU nurse are similar to the steps required for any type of nursing job. You will need to attend college and earn some type of degree in nursing. After finishing your program, you need to take the NCLEX licensing exam and meet any other requirements in your state. Most states do a criminal background check at the same time that you take the exam. You will then need to take some higher level nursing classes and obtain certification from the American Association of Critical Care Nurses. Many hospitals prefer hiring critical care nurses who completed an RN to BSN program or have a bachelor’s in nursing.

Average Salary

The amount of money you can make as a critical care nurse depends on where you live and the overall demand for these nurses. Larger cities often pay more because hospitals in those cities have a greater need and a higher cost of living. Nurses in this field can start out earning around $60,000 to $70,000 a year. Some nurses, especially those who have five to 10 years of experience or more, can earn well over $100,000 a year.

Related Resource: Become an Emergency Room Nurse

Critical care nursing is one of the more stressful nursing fields because these professionals work with patients suffering from serious medical conditions. They work on intensive care units, emergency rooms and other critical care departments. While working as an ICU nurse might be stressful, as you gain more experience, you can make more than $100,000 every year.