Nurses are Masters at the Fine Art of Caring

Careers in ICU Nursing

Guest Article by JG Enriquez
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ICU nursing careers are perfect for those who want the challenge of caring for critically-ill patients. The intensive care unit (ICU) of hospitals monitors the most unstable patients. If you feel you have the right mindset and skills to be an ICU nurse, then you should pursue a career in this field. You can begin by completing your associate or baccalaureate nursing degree and then pass the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination) afterwards.

After getting licensed, you must first work as a ward or floor nurse for about a year or two to get some basic nursing experience. You need to have a solid foundation of nursing skills before advancing to ICU nursing. You may work in any nursing area at the hospital, but many ICU nurses recommend a stint in the medical-surgical nursing floor or the emergency department before applying for an ICU position. At this point, you need to be aware of the subspecialties in ICU nursing. Assess and pick the one that best suits your interests and career goals.

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Nursing

NICU nurses care for newborns up to one month old. Premature babies and babies born with complications are admitted to this unit. Being a NICU nurse means you have to assess, care, and monitor these very young patients in a highly technical environment. You would be responsible for the day-to-day care of these babies. Advanced equipment is frequently used in this area. Skills in being able to detect complications in these fragile patients are essential. Nurses in this area are expected to address the neurological, pulmonary, and cardiac complications that neonates may experience.

Make no mistake, the careful administration of drugs and the performance of invasive procedures for these delicate patients are important. Don't forget to adopt a holistic nursing approach involving the babies' families and caregivers. If you are particularly fond of babies and don't mind the frequent crying, a career in NICU nursing is the right one for you. It is good to know that the pay is competitive since there is currently a shortage of NICU nurses.

Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) Nursing

PICU nursing is perfect for those who love kids. These nurses care for children ranging in age from month old babies to teenagers under 18. It is crucial for would-be PICU nurses like you to understand the different stages of human development. Often, the present stage of a child determines the kind of nursing intervention you would perform. Beware though, PICU nursing can be just as demanding as adult ICU nursing. You would need to have an acute sense of your patients' conditions around the clock. You need to be able to respond promptly when the need arises.

Because you are caring for children, it is imperative that you involve their families with the health care decisions. Health education is an important responsibility in caring for these patients. PICU nursing may suit you if you come from a NICU nursing background and want to transition later towards adult ICU nursing. Some of the interventions used by PICU nurses are similar to those employed by adult ICU nurses, so that might ease the transition a bit for you. Many health facilities need PICU nurses, so you are making a good choice if you decide to enter this field.

Adult ICU Nursing: Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU) Nursing and Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU) Nursing

When the acute patient is at least 18 years old, he or she is admitted to an adult ICU nursing unit. Some large hospitals have separate units called medical intensive care units (MICU) and surgical intensive care units (SICU). A patient could end up in either unit depending on his or condition. MICU nurses care for a wide variety of patients and are expected to perform a thorough assessment, administer medications, and take frequent vital signs. SICU nurses meanwhile care for pre- and post-operative patients as well as trauma patients suffering from multiple injuries. SICU nurses do most of the tasks of MICU nurses, plus emphasis is placed on wound care.

As in all types of ICU units, you should expect to operate sophisticated medical equipment such as ventilators, cardiac monitors, and dialysis machines. You will also be responsible for taking care of a patient's hygiene, all the while making sure that all tubes are kept secure and in place. Tube feedings, dressing changes, endotracheal care, suctioning secretions, and chest tube care are just some of the other tasks done in the adult ICU unit. Needless to say, there is no room for error and this setting demands for you to exercise excellent nursing judgement. Be a team player and don't forget that you need to collaborate with the rest of the health care team in this complex environment. As far as job opportunities are concerned, there is a shortage of nurses in adult ICU nurses. Many opportunities exist for nurses with some basic experience to move into this field.

Coronary Care Unit or Cardiac Care Unit (CCU) Nursing

If you are interested in caring for the special needs of heart disease patients, then CCU nursing is best for you. As a CCU nurse, you will be trained in advanced cardiac life support (ACLS), electrocardiogram (ECG) recording, and mechanical ventilation. A 'code blue' call for resuscitating cardiac arrest patients should be a routine procedure for you as a CCU nurse. You are expected to know the workings of the heart like the back of your hand. Also, you will be caring for patients who have undergone cardiothoracic surgery such as open heart surgery, valve replacements, and angioplasty. As a CCU nurse, it is expected that you know the intricacies in cardiac care, including how cardiac drugs work and how they interact with other medications. CCU nursing can also entail working in telemetry units, a step-down unit where patients who are relatively stable are monitored.

Yes, ICU nursing is already a high-level nursing specialty, but CCU nursing is even more specialized. The highly technical nursing care environment would attract capable nurses like you who love the challenge of taking care of heart disease patients. For that same reason, the demand for CCU nurses far outweigh the supply, and nurses who plan to enter CCU nursing are appropriately compensated.


ICU nursing careers are suitable for nurses with the utmost confidence, skills, and clinical judgement. Have you got what it takes? If you feel you are capable of becoming an ICU nurse, then work on your basic nursing experience first, after which you can apply for certification with the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN). Choose the appropriate certification for your nursing practice. Being certified can help you advance toward nursing leadership positions such as nurse unit manager or team leader. Make the choice towards an ICU nursing career to practice your profession at the highest level.

J.G. Enriquez writes feature articles about careers in critical care nursing for J.G. has worked as a nurse for 4 years and greatly enjoys writing about his occupation.