Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurses are in a state of perpetual motion. On the ICU floor, circumstances change from moment to moment. Acutely ill patients and their families are vulnerable and scared. Being an ICU nurse means you are their caregiver, clinician, researcher, and friend.
Not all people can successfully wear so many hats. Not all people can take the good with the bad- and keep coming back for more. Just remember, the most trying careers are often the most rewarding.
Being an ICU Nurse: What You Need
An effective ICU nurse possesses strong interpersonal skills, is organized, knows how to follow protocol, has the stamina of a marathon runner, is a genuinely kind and caring person, operates well under pressure and has the ability to think critically on his or her feet.
Some clinical responsibilities of an ICU nurse include patient monitoring, treatment administration, medication management, ventilation support provision and the delivery of frequent status updates. An ICU nurse’s less tangible contributions are equally significant.
The Challenges of Being an ICU Nurse
- Emotional Response to Loss
ICU nurses treat critically ill patients suffering from life-threatening conditions. One benefit of working as an ICU nurse is a smaller caseload. You will typically assist one or two patients at a time.
That arrangement, however, creates other challenges. Uniquely personal connections are developed while working closely with your patients and their families. You will empathize with their circumstances, be a shoulder to cry on and some days you’ll catch the brunt of their frustration and fear.
You must be simultaneously caring and guarded. Striking a balance between compassion and professionalism is no easy feat.
- You are Always “On”
There are no coffee breaks on the ICU floor. Your patients require around the clock care. You can rest after your shift is completed.
- Potential Conflicts with Physicians
Everyone has their good and bad days, doctors and nurses alike. In the ICU, the stakes are high and tensions rise accordingly. If a physician demeans you, for whatever reason, you may be hesitant to defend yourself. Running away from the issue will not help your patients. To do your job well you must be resilient.
The Tremendous Rewards of Being an ICU Nurse
- High Demand
The need for critical care nurses is growing. Between 2014 and 2024, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 16 percent growth rate for all types of registered nurses, including ICU nurses. This surpasses the anticipated growth rate for other occupations.
This surpasses the anticipated growth rate for other occupations.
- Patient Connection
Nurses on other floors may care for as many as 12 patients at a time, while you will likely focus on one or two. As stated earlier, this can be viewed as a benefit or drawback. However, most ICU nurses see this as an advantage.
By spending copious amounts time with your patients, you will notice things others cannot-and your observations could save lives. Also, strong personal connections make positive outcomes infinitely more meaningful.
- An Impressive Level of Responsibility
In the ICU there is no time to waste. Certain decisions need to be made in the moment, and a physician may not always be present.
Your ability to think critically is imperative.
- You will Never Stop Learning
Medicine is a fluid profession. Advances are made each day and each advance facilitates a new learning experience. Also, no two patients are alike. Everyone’s body reacts differently to trauma.
ICU nurses never stop learning. It just isn’t an option.
As a newly minted ICU nurse, you may feel anxious – even scared.
Take heed; the other nurses on your floor have been in your position and want to help you learn.
High stakes environments breed teamwork and comradery.
You will be surrounded by compassionate men and women united by a common purpose, to heal and comfort those who need it most.
For more ICU careers, visit our careers page.