Critical Care Nurse


A critical care nurse can find employment in settings where patient care requires nurses able to react to life threatening situations, constantly monitor the condition of unstable patients and for those who are able to bring the best in nursing care practice and a wide body of knowledge to their position. Technology has brought many more diseases and conditions into the realm of the treatable than has ever before been possible. The critical care nurse will often be found at the bedside of these at risk and very ill patients.

Critical Care Nurse Job Description & Scope of Practice

The critical care nurse is generally found in hospital and clinic settings such as trauma units, cardiac intensive care units (ICU), Neonatal ICU, Pediatric ICU, and Adult Acute or Intensive care units. The patients assigned to the critical care nurse’s care normally require constant monitoring, a wide variety of treatments and are in unstable condition. The treatment and constant vigilance exercised by the critical care nurse can literally mean the difference between life and death. These nurses administer prescribed physician treatments, constantly monitor and record the status of the patients under his or her care and are trained to recognize and respond appropriately to signs of deterioration in the patient’s condition. The critical care nurse will be required to be familiar with the use and maintenance of state of the art medical devices intended to record patient’s vital signs or to assist in life support functions.

How to Become a Critical Care Nurse

A critical care nurse is usually an RN whose main focus of care has been that of the critically ill patient in an intensive care setting. Some hospitals accept RNs with associate nursing degrees if those degrees were obtained in their hospitals. The critical care nurse must have a keen eye, a wide body of knowledge in medicine, technology, and be able to communicate empathetically and effectively with both the patient and their caregivers. Nurses holding diplomas such as the LVN or LPN diploma are normally required to transition to an RN program and hold a current state RN licence in order to be employed as a critical care nurse.

Critical Care Nurse Education Requirements, Certification, and Schooling Programs

  • 50 percent of Critical Care Nurse jobs require at least an Associate Degree in Nursing while 45% require a Bachelor Degree and 5% require an Advanced Practice Nursing Degree (Master Degree in Nursing).
  • A current RN license is required for any critical care nurse.
  • In some hospital settings the need for critical care nurses is so dire the hospitals will provide on internships for qualified registered nurses with no experience. Teaching hospitals may offer on the internships for Advanced Practice Nursing students in Pediatric ICU, Neonatal ICU, Cardiac ICU and more specialties.
  • Critical care nurses receive the Certified Critical Care Nurse (CCRN) credential through the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). Those wishing to obtain the CCRN credential must have 1,750 hours of experience caring directly for critically ill patients within the two years prior to the exam, with 875 of those hours being in the last year before the exam. They must also have a current RN license. Applicants must also pass the CCRN exam consisting of 150 multiple-choice questions focusing on clinical judgment, professional caring and ethical practice. It takes approximately three hours to complete the test. Certification is not required, but it is recommended by the AACN. Advanced practice nurses can apply for specialty certifications such as Pediatric Critical Care nurse or Neonatal  ICU nurse if the majority of their practice hours were spent with that population. It is not mandatory to be certified (CCRN) to practice a as critical care nurse.

 Critical Care Nurse Salary and Career Outlook

The nursing shortage across the nation is particularly noticeable in specialties such as Critical care nursing. The job growth for Advanced Practice Nurses (Master Degree Level) and Certified Critical Care nurses is predicted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to be above 21% through the year 2018.

Many hospitals offer attractive benefits including housing allowances, moving allowances and signing bonuses to attract qualified advanced practice nurses. The average salary of a Critical Care Nurse nationwide is around $67,000.

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