ICU Nursing (Intensive Care Unit Nursing)

An ICU nurse is sometimes referred to as a critical care nurse. They are registered nurses (RN) who work in intensive care units in hospitals, and increasingly in other locations where critical care is given, such as outpatient clinics and even home health care, with advances in technology. The ICU nurse provides nursing care for patients with acute, life-threatening illnesses or injuries. Monitoring and surveillance is very important for ICU nurses, because of the fragility of their patients’ conditions. ICU nurses are often responsible for conveying the patients’ status to their loved ones or family, as well as for monitoring the patient’s pain medication. Any subtle change in a patient’s condition that may warrant more medical intervention must be quickly noted. ICU nurses must be vigilant and have highly specialized nursing skills equipping them to handle these high risk and high stress healthcare scenarios.

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ICU Nurse Job Description

ICU nurses usually specialize by either providing care for babies in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), or for adolescents in a Pediatric ICU (or PICU), or for adults in an intensive care unit. With the right training and education, an ICU nurse can specialize further into other categories, focusing on diseases or parts of the body, like oncology or cardiology, or trauma. The ICU nursing job can be one with potential high stress for nurses, because of the critical situations and many potential end-of-life scenarios that they may face. Nurses who go into ICU nursing will have to be comfortable shouldering that job responsibility as well as with the emotional toll of possibly losing patients. However, this job is not without its rewards, as ICU nurses are extending the life and health of those who truly need it most. For those who are passionate about pediatric nursing, working in a neonatal ICU, caring for adolescents or caring for adults in an acute care setting the ICU nursing career path could be especially fulfilling.

The path toward the ICU nursing specialty can be varied, but it must start with becoming a licensed, registered nurse. You can become an RN by earning a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing from an accredited college or university, or by earning a two-to-three year Associate Degree. You can also earn a nursing diploma from a hospital nursing program, though this will be less competitive and there are few diploma programs left. Once you finish your degree, you will have to pass your state’s board of nursing exam, which is called the NCLEX (National Council Licensing Exam). As your career progresses, you may also choose to earn a master’s degree and become a critical care nurse practitioner, adult health nurse practitioner or an acute care clinical nurse specialist or nurse practitioner. Most training in the ICU procedures and technology is done on-the-job by the hospital though some nursing programs expose their students to the ICU during clinical practicums.

For the nurse who has earned their degree and begun working in nursing, ICU nurse certification is a great option to help advance your career. Unlike licensing, certification and becoming a critical care registered nurse (CCRN) is not a state requirement. It is voluntary. However, it is frequently required by hospitals hiring ICU nurses because it is seen as proof of your mastery of critical nursing skills. CCRN certification also demonstrates that you are up-to-date with the latest in critical care nursing technology, which is very important in this profession. It can earn you more respect on the job from physicians and colleagues, as well as better prepare you for situations that you may face.

The outlook for critical care nursing, like nursing overall, is outstanding. With the improvements that have been made in technology, people are surviving illness and trauma that they would not have survived in the past. These wonderful improvements in medical technology, while extending life, are also increasing the need for nurses to care for people even more who are in fragile health states. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) is the main professional organization for ICU nurses. ICU nurses that are members of the AACN can consult the organization’s website for news on the career’s latest trends, research, learn about developments, as well as find job and networking opportunities and conferences or continuing education opportunities.

ICU Nurse Salary

According to, the average salary for an intensive care unit nurse is $51,691 to $76,148. Salary, job security, and fulfillment could make this nursing path an exciting one for the right nurse. You will only need to find the right nursing degree program and training in order to get started on an ICU nurse career path.

(Sources: National Council of State Boards of Nursing, The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses)