Critical care nurses treat patients who’ve been severely injured, as well as those recovering from traumatic injuries. They’re responsible for making sure very sick or severely injured patients receive the best medical care available. They’re also responsible for discussing their patients’ medical conditions with family and loved ones.
The field of critical care nursing is fairly new. Medical and technological advances have made patient care a much more complex process than it used to be. As a result, nurses must obtain new skills and knowledge to assist patients requiring advanced medical treatments and monitoring. Intensive care came into existence during the 50’s to treat critically ill and injured patients requiring specialized and individualized medical care. Since that time, critical care nursing has emerged as a highly specialized field of nursing. About 25 percent of nurses nationwide are critical care nurse of one kind or another.
Critical care nurses work in environments with patients that require complex rehabilitation and therapies, continual monitoring, and thorough assessments. Critical care nurses must obtain specialized training to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to assist terminally ill, chronically fatigued, and severely disabled patients. They must also have the ability to comfort patients’ family members who are unable to deal with their loved ones condition. As such, critical care nurses must be compassionate, patient, and empathetic.
Critical care nurses are employed at various clinics, hospitals and healthcare facilities. Their responsibilities may vary dramatically depending on where they work and their area of expertise. Critical care nurses fill positions as clinical nurse specialists, nurse managers, nurse researchers, nurse educators, and bedside clinicians. The introduction of managed care, coupled with an increase in the number of patients using assisted living facilities, has changed the roles of critical care nurses, since they now care for more terminally ill and severely disabled patients than in the past.
Demand has also increased for critical care nurses within critical care and acute patient care environments. Critical care nurses have advanced skill sets and knowlegde that comes from on-the-job training, experience and education. Within critical care environments, they’re typically known as acute nurse practitioners (ACNPs) and clinical nurse specialists (CNSs). In some states, critical care nurses are granted great atonomy in treating patients.
Most critical care nurses specialize in a specific type of care, but all critical care nurses must be able to identify problems, provide proper treatment, manage patient care, and communicate effectively with family members.
ACNPs treating patients in critical care environments are trained to make tough decisions for patients receiving complicated care and treatment. The following are some of the most common duties of these specialists: assessing patient risks, drawing conclusions from diagnostic tests, administering treatment, and prescribing limited amounts of medication.
Critical care nurses often specialize in neonatal, pediatric, adult, and geriatric care.
Most critical care nurses are employed at hospitals with emergency rooms, cardiac catheter labs, cardiac care units, neonatal intensive care units (ICUs), pediatric ICUs, and general ICUs. However, more nurses are now finding employment with emergency flight teams, surgical centers, colleges and universities, managed care clinics, and home healthcare companies.
Critical care nurses are required to complete advanced training in order to effectively execute their responsibilities. Likewise, specialized knowledge is required for nurses that are responsible for treating terminally ill and severely injured patients. Critical care nurse specialists typically complete training programs where they’re introduced to the basic concepts of critical care as well as advanced nursing procedures for treating and caring for the chronically ill and injured.
Critical-care nurses are not required to become certified, but many choose to do so in order to enhance their marketability and earning potential. Many organizations prefer to hire nurses who’ve demonstrated competency by becoming certified. To become recognized as a certified critical care nurse (CCRN), students are required to complete a specified amount of clinical experience, have a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) or master’s of science in nursing (MSN) degree from an accredited nursing program, and pass a state administered exam.
Annual salaries for critical care nurses are influenced by a number of factors including employer, work experience, education level, specialty, and the geographic region where they practice. Shortages currently exist for nurse specialists in most states. As a result, many hospitals are offering nurses specializing in critical care numerous work incentives, such as large sign-on bonuses, generous benefits, relocation bonuses, etc.
In a recent survey more than half of a sample of critical care nurses reported the following annual salaries:
- $24,999 or less – 4%
- $25,000 – 39,999 – 18%
- $40,000 – 54,999 – 39%
- $55,000 – 74,999 – 29%
- $75,000 or more – 8%
A more recent survey of 2,784 nurses suggested that most salaries for critical care nurses exceeded $50,000 a year. However, it is not uncommon for nurse specialists to earn $65,000 or more a year with certified nurses making more, on average, than non-certified nurses.
Education and Training
Licensed registered nurses hold college degrees in nursing and have passed a national licensure examination. Every state’s Board of Nursing determines licensure requirements for registered nurses and nurse specialists such as critical care nurses. Some nursing schools provide critical care nursing training, but critical care nurses typically receive on the job training. Nurses with the most specialized skills hold graduate degrees.