What is a Critical Care Nurse?

For students and others interested in the diverse field of nursing specializations, the role of the critical care nurse is one that continues to draw attention. While every nurse is needed, especially at this point in time, these nursing professionals provide vital assistance and fulfill duties as few other practitioners in the medical field can. It’s a job that requires dedication, strength, and balance. In the article below, we’ll discuss the general duties and skill sets required of these most essential healthcare professionals.

The Role is Ancient, But the Title is New

Only in the 1950s were hospital intensive care units (ICU) developed to provide patients with critical needs and traumatic, life-threatening injuries or illnesses the immediate attention they required. In response to this, nursing professionals dedicated resources and time to educating practitioners to provide this essential and immediate care. Today, critical care or ICU nurses fulfill these needs while creating an environment that is healing to both patients and their loved ones, according to Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow. In accordance with disciplinary philosophies, these nurses are patient advocates in an environment that often leads healthcare practitioners to focus exclusively on the problem rather than the patient.

However, these nursing professionals provide a wide array of services and take on a number of roles within the ICU setting. They do provide bedside care of patients and serve as a bridge of communication between physicians and the family of patients, but they also fill roles such as practitioners, researchers, managers, and clinical nurse specialists. In fact, data from the Department of Health and Human Services show that nearly a quarter of all nursing staff in hospitals were trained in a critical care specialty.

Qualifications and Duties of the Role

While all nurses receive a basic, rigorous education in patient care, each specialty requires additional, focused studies in a specific area. These nurses may specialize in several ways. First, they may elect to study the needs of a specific age range—neonatal, pediatric or geriatric, for example—or they may further specialize to treat injuries or illness of a specific type. You’ll find them in any department in which patients require the most urgent care, such as the specialized ICUs for oncology, neonatal, pediatric, neurology, cardiothoracic and cardiac catheter laboratories, and even in telemetry units.

These nursing professionals are often also called upon to assist in the wake of complex or problematic surgical procedures. They act as counterparts and supports for their contemporaries, the medsurg nurses, who assist surgeons in the operating room. However, in addition to interpreting diagnostic test results, assessing complex situations and implementing plans of action, and administering medications, these nurses also provide other services. As stated above, their primary philosophy centers on patient advocacy.

They are bound to provide comfort, non-medicinal therapeutic options, support for family and friends of patients, and serve as a prime mover in a healing environment. This means that they must be as problem-focused as their physician counterparts, while also maintaining a network of communication between all parties and facilitating a nurturing, healing, and proactive healthcare outcome to what is bound to be a tense time for all concerned.

Related Resource: What is a Telemetry Nurse?

No nursing specialty can be called a light duty. In every sub-field, theirs is a rigorous and painstaking discipline calling for multi-field precision and superior judgment. However, it is fair to say that the critical care nurse must possess the broadest array of skills, along with the unflagging empathy, sure assessment, and unflappable bearing required of all nursing professionals.