Critical Care Nurse

Burn Center Nurse, Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory Registered Nurse   More Names
Catheterization Laboratory Senior Manager (Cath Lab Senior Manager), Critical Care Nurse, Critical Care Nurse Practitioner, Critical Care Nurse Specialist, Critical Care Nurses, Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN), Critical Care Unit Manager, Critical Care Unit Nurse, ICU Staff Nurse (Intensive Care Unit Staff Nurse), Intensive Care Unit Nurse, Neonatal Critical Care Nurse, Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse, Pediatric Critical Care Nurse, Progressive Care Nurse, Registered Nurse Supervisor (RN Supervisor), Staff Nurse, Staff Nurse, ICU Resource Team (Staff Nurse, Intensive Care Unit Resource Team), Step-Down Nurse, Telemetry Nurse, Vascular Nurse

Provide specialized nursing care for critically-ill and seriously-injured patients who require complex assessment, high-intensity therapies and interventions, and continuous nursing vigilance.

In responding to life-threatening problems, rely upon specialized knowledge, skills and experience to ensure that critically-ill patients receive needed care and their families needed support.

Critical care nurses are licensed professionals who work in consultation with physicians and surgeons.

Critical care nurses are registered nurses who specialize in a particular area of patient care, such as cardiac, cancer, or infant care. The majority of critical care nurses work in hospitals wherever critically-ill patients are found, including adult intensive care units (ICUs); pediatric ICUs; newborn (ICUs); emergency departments; cancer units; cardiac care units; infectious disease units; and surgery recovery rooms. In addition to hospitals, critical care nurses work in home healthcare; managed care facilities; nursing homes; and outpatient surgery centers and clinics.

Critically-ill patients are those at high risk for actual or potential life-threatening health problems and include those who are seriously injured such as in automobile accidents. Critical care nurses perform many roles for patients including bedside clinician, patient comforter, educator, and advocate. In the role of advocate, critical care nurses for those patients who can do little for themselves to ask for help and administer treatments and medications. Therefore, critically-ill patients must rely on their specialized critical care nurses to be their eyes, ears, and voice.

As advances have occurred in healthcare medicine and technology, patient care has become more complex. In addition to traditional nursing values such as careful listening, clear thinking, and patient understanding, today's critical care nurses also must be skilled in using a wide range of special care and monitoring technology. Cardiac ultrasound and echo units, cardiac defibrillators and monitoring units, and diagnostic and intervention catheters and sets are examples, Within the specialized units and departments in which they work - such as in gynecology, hematology, neurology, oncology, or urology - critical care nurses also use more specialized equipment that directly addresses particular treatment needs.

In a typical hospital, a little over one-third of the registered nursing staff work as critical care nurses. Within many hospitals throughout the U.S, there is a large unmet need for qualified critical care nurses. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) reports that requests for temporary and traveling critical care nurses to fill staffing gaps are especially numerous in adult critical care units, pediatric and neonatal ICUs, and emergency departments.

Within the entire U.S. healthcare industry, registered nurses are the largest healthcare occupation holding more than 2.6 million jobs. Of this total, the AACN reports over 500,000 - about 20% - are critical care or acute care nurses.

Credentials Needed: Once an individual completes their education and training, they are eligible to take the registered nurse national licensing exam which must be passed before an individual can seek to be licensed as an RN, and then train to become a critical care nurse.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia (plus Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) require that registered nurse candidates must first graduate from an accredited nursing program and then pass the National Council Licensure Examination. After passing this national licensing exam, candidates are ready to seek licensure by the state in which they intend to practice.

Information concerning what your state may require regarding licensing for registered nurses is available from State Boards of Nursing which are listed under "Find Programs" for this career as well as from the website.

Although certification is not required to practice as a critical care nurse, many choose to become certified through the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). . The AACN sponsors a number of specialty certifications for critical care nurses, including for adult, neonatal, and pediatric specializations.

The AACN is the principal voluntary professional association for critical care nurses, acute care nurses, and advanced practice registered nurses. This organization reports that it represents the interests of over 50,000 nurses and is the largest specialty nursing organization in the world.

Some Key Things to Remember: Critical care nurses provide care for critically-ill and seriously-injured patients who require complex assessment, high-intensity treatments and interventions, and continuous nursing vigilance. The majority work in the specialty units and departments of hospitals, where one in five nurses on average is a critical care nurse. They receive their training primarily through on-the-job experience and certification. There is a severe shortage of critical care nurses in a number of specialty areas in communities throughout the United States.

Reviewed for content and accuracy by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing and South Dakota State College of Nursing on behalf of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, February 6, 2012 and February 23, 2012.

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Job Growth and Wages
Percent Job Growth:  
16% - Faster than average
Typical Wages (National):  
Annual: $56,190 - $83,770    Hourly: $27 - $40
Physical/Medical/Health Requirements

Critical care nurses spend long hours (12 hour shifts) on their feet and need to be able to lift patients using good body mechanics and lifting techniques. Critical care nurses need stamina and many hospitals have specific weight lifting requirements for their nurses.

Legal Requirements
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(Data Drawn from O*NET)

Career Snapshot

Typical Education:

Associate's Degree (High School + 2 or more Years)
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Percent Job Growth:

16% - Faster than average
Find Jobs

Typical Wages:

Annual: $56,190 - $83,770

Hourly: $27 - $40