The Job of an ICU Nurse

ICU or Intensive Care Unit nurse jobs fall under the category of the critical care nursing field and focus on providing high quality care for the critically ill and other unstable patients. They are constantly performing assessments of their patient’s current conditions and often administer treatments that save people’s lives. An ICU nurse will work as part of a team. Due to the complexity and stress of the job only highly proficient registered nurses will specialize in such a field. ICU nurses can also serve as patient advocates and always must respect the rights of their patients.

The basic ICU nurse functions are:

  • To provide excellent care to patients in critical or near fatal condition.
  • Have a keen sense of observation over each patient.
  • Support and educate the family on the status and proper care of the patient.
  • Be capable of providing assistance and guidance to other nurses and nurse assistants you work with.

ICU Nurse Subspecialties

ICU nurses can have general or specialized practices. A general ICU nurse will work with patients of all ages, while specialized ICU nurses tend to work with a specific age group. Below are three of the top specialties:

  • SICU: Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU): Mostly deals with adults who have just come out of an emergency surgery, however treats patients of all ages.
  • Nursery ICU: this is also known as the neonatal intensive care unit, which treats and cares for newborns.
  • Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU): Cares for children and infants in ICU

Education and Training

Most ICU nurses in the US are RNs or registered nurses, which requires a graduate degree from a nursing program or college as well as one that has passed a national licensing exam. Usually three to four years is needed to complete this step of education.

Nurses that wish to further their education and perhaps be specialized can obtain a certification in critical care nursing. Through the national board (known as the American Association of Critical Care Nurses) you can obtain a CCRN, which certifies you as a critical care nurse to care for adults as well as neonatal and pediatric patients. This certificate requires a certain number of clinical practice hours as well as passing the final exam.

Compensation for an ICU Nurse

The average pay for a general ICU nurse is about $55,000 annually, while specialized ICU nurses can earn upward of $75,000 annually. These numbers always depend on what state you are working in, education level and bonuses. As with most careers, the more specialized and educated you are will usually result in a higher annual salary.

ICU Nurse Practice

Critical care and ICU nurses work in a variety of areas within a hospital and can have a wide range of patient types. Many nurses work in hospitals within intensive care units, in post-operative care and in emergency rooms but a few work on medical evacuation and transport teams or in hospice facilities.

Working as an ICU Nurse

ICU Nurses have a very hard job as they are expected to be knowledgeable about a wide range of diseases and technologies used with the ICU. The technologies can include the different life support systems, cardiac monitoring equipment, mechanical ventilator therapy, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation and much more. The training for this and other equipment is provided through in-hospital services along with many hours of practicing with experienced operators. Many employers and some US states require that you have annual continuous education to always be up-to-date on the most current technologies.

A job as an ICU nurse is a wonderful option for people with a strong desire to provide quality care to patients with life treating conditions. An ICU nurse must be able to think fast, interpolate complex medical information while constantly monitoring a patient’s vital signs and conditions. Being able to take control of your emotions, having great people skills and the ability to work under a high stress environment is also of the utmost importance. Although it may sound very challenging it comes with a high reward of feeling great about helping heal other people.


Learn More: Nursing Jobs in the Emergency Room (ER)