Critical care. It’s as dire as it sounds. When someone suffers complications from surgery, has breathing or heart problems, contracts a life-threatening illness, or endures a life-threatening injury, they need critical care. The intensive care unit (ICU) of a hospital, where critical care is administered, is a place where death is always a possibility.
Critical care registered nurses form part of the team—with doctors, pharmacists, physiotherapists, and social workers—that treats these patients. The job requires a calm temperament, quick thinking, and an ability to compartmentalize the mayhem that accompanies extreme medical situations.
There are many ways to describe the careers of critical care nurses, but boring isn’t one.
If you’re thinking about a career in nursing, now is a good time to enter the field. Forbes projects a 15 percent jump in nursing jobs over the next five years, the result of an aging population that both creates more patients and removes older nurses from the workforce.
For someone with the ability to stay calm in a crisis, becoming a critical care registered nurse can be a great career move. In this guide, we’ll discuss:
Critical care registered nurses can be found wherever there are patients in need of emergency assistance. The facilities where you could work include:
To become a critical care registered nurse, you will first need to complete an
accredited general nursing program. You can become a registered nurse with an associate’s degree, but a bachelor’s degree in nursing is almost always required for jobs in the ICU.
As you consider undergraduate programs in nursing, make sure the schools you consider are accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. You’ll also want to make sure the school has a reputable clinical site, as much of your practical, hands-on education will be conducted there. During the semester, clinical shifts can last from 4 to 12 hours.
Many universities, including many reasonably priced state universities, offer the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Typical of these programs:
Some universities also offer online courses for a bachelor’s of science in nursing. These include:
To be eligible for the NCLEX-RN exam, you must first apply to the nursing regulatory body where you wish to practice. After confirming that you graduated from an accredited program and meet other requirements, the regulatory agency will clear you to take the exam.
Critical care registered nurses greatly benefit from the support and resources available from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. While certification from this board is voluntary, it shows future employers your professionalism and keeps you abreast of best practices in your industry. The organization provides numerous online courses available for continuing education and professional development Certified nurses are always in high demand.
Critical care nurses typically work in other fields before entering this specialization. That’s because the job requires skills accrued through hands-on experience, such as:
Critical care nursing can open doors to further advancement. Opportunities include:
Administrative roles may require a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). A master’s can also qualify you as an advanced practice nurse, opening the opportunity to become a nurse practitioner or a clinical nurse specialist.
Some nurses can step away from the intensive care unit to help teams managing home-based or chronic care needs. They typically find work with:
A critical care registered nurse’s career path could even include work in marketing, consulting or quality assurance , according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Critical care nurses can further advance their careers by obtaining certification in areas of specialization, such as:
Many nurses continue their education by earning a master’s degree to further specialize and become more competitive in their profession. Lifelong learning is an important part of being a critical care registered nurse since technology and best practices change with time. You’ll need to be prepared to help in the most effective ways possible.
Some nursing students also enroll in a combined program to complete their bachelor’s degree and their master’s degree at the same time before entering the workplace.
Experts believe that the nursing profession as a whole is becoming more professionalized, with a greater expectation for advanced degrees. As you consider a career as a critical care registered nurse, plan your education with your career goals in mind. If you hope to advance beyond the ICU floor, you may want to consider earning that MSN. It will prepare you for roles with more responsibility as well as a higher income.
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