ICU Nurse Job Description, Skills & Salary

ICU Nurse Job Description, Skills & Salary

ICU (Intensive Care Unit) nurses, also known as Critical Care nurses, are highly specialized nurses who treat and care for patients with life-threatening conditions. Because of their advanced care abilities and the fact that they only treat one or two patients during a shift, ICU nurses are in high demand. Learn more about the required skills, average salary, and the job responsibilities of an ICU nurse from the resources at Sunbelt Staffing today!

What is an ICU Nurse?

On traditional hospital floors, nurses provide care for numerous patients during a shift. On these floors, patients are stable and recovering and only require basic care. This requires regular checks, medication delivery, and assistance with procedures when needed. In an intensive care unit, patients require regular monitoring of vitals (every 15 minutes to every hour), regular use of life-supporting systems such as ventilators or heart monitoring, and precisely delivered medications. ICU nurses typically only care for one or two patients per shift. This allows them to closely monitor their patients and be immediately ready to treat and help sustain life.

ICU nurses work in an intensive care unit of the hospital. While many hospitals have one or two different ICUs, there are a variety of specialty units where ICU nurses will work. These can include:

  • Medical Intensive Care (MICU) – This is a general ICU that often sees cases or respiratory distress, overdoses, or sepsis.
  • Pediatric Intensive Care (PICU) – This is an intensive care unit specializing in the treatment of children.
  • Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU) – The NICU treats premature newborns, newborns with medical conditions and those children under 28 days of age.
  • Cardiac Care Units (CICU, CVICU, or CCU) – These units take care of patients with heart conditions, including heart attacks.
  • Surgical Intensive Care (SICU) – Surgical ICUs may see post-surgical cases that require increased monitoring, such as transplants and severe trauma.
  • Neuro ICU – These units specialize in neurological conditions, such as strokes and brain bleeds.
  • Trauma Intensive Care (TICU) – These units specialize in trauma patients, such as gun shots or other serious and life-threatening traumas.
  • Burn Intensive Care (BICU) – This unit specializes in treating patients with severe and life-threatening burns.

ICU Nurse Job Description

Being an ICU nurse is a demanding position. You are constantly monitoring highly unstable and critical patients. A typical shift as an ICU nurse includes assessing your patients’ conditions, performing constant monitoring and advise if a change in treatment is necessary, act as an advocate for the patient and their family, and support the family with education. In many cases, patients in the ICU are intubated, ventilated and have multiple IV drips. This requires the knowledge of more equipment than general nurses. In addition, because of the constant monitoring, ICU nurses perform much more detailed and regular patient charting in order to closely monitor a patient’s condition. While this is not a complete list, ICU nurse duties can include:

  • Patient monitoring and assessment at least every hour
  • Lab draws
  • Patient repositioning and skin integrity checks
  • Wound care
  • Ventilatory management
  • Medication administration
  • Tracheotomy and ventilator care
  • Intravenous insertion and infusion
  • Central line care
  • Swan-Ganz catheters
  • Advanced cardiac life support
  • Provide emotional support to patient and family members
  • Constant critical thinking and preparation for every possible care scenario

ICU Nursing Skills

ICU nursing requires someone with focus, stamina, and a solid foundation in nursing. While other nursing specialties can turn minor patient care, such as vitals or bathing, to additional patient care technicians or CNAs, ICU nurses are responsible for total patient care as the risk of a patient getting into medical trouble can happen quickly and ICU nurses need to be aware of any potential changes.

ICU nurses require an ADN or BSN in nursing for ICU consideration. The American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN) offers a variety of different certifications for ICU nurses. The basic certification for ICU nurses is the CCRN, or Critical Care Registered Nurse. In addition, special certifications are available for each specialty, such as pediatric or neo-natal ICU.

Some core competency shills necessary for ICU nurses include:

  • An understanding of medical technology and equipment
  • Strong assessment skills, giving you the ability to detect subtle changes in your patient’s condition
  • Strong knowledge of anatomy and physiology
  • In-depth knowledge of medications and their actions, including interactions, side effects and dosage calculations
  • Strong organizational skills and the ability to prioritize
  • Strong communication skills
  • The ability to handle end-of-life issues
  • Ability to work well in a team environment – in the ICU, you are a critical member of a complete care team including physicians, specialists, aides and other medical professionals.
  • The ability to rapidly make a decision and take instant action

ICU Nursing Salary

ICU nurse salaries vary depending on several factors, including experience level and your geographical location. The average yearly salary for ICU nurses in 2019 was $74,588 though the typical range is between $67,217 and $81,049.  Larger hospitals in heavily populated cities, such as New York or Los Angeles, often pay more. Should you choose a specialty ICU, such as NICU, the average salary greatly increases. The average salary for a NICU nurse is $102,480.

ICU vs. ER Nurses

Nurses working in the Emergency Room, or ER, see it all. Every day is different. Patients can come in with everything from flu symptoms to severe trauma, gunshots, or heart attacks. ER nurses must be able to quickly recognize acute problems and work with the physicians to stabilize the patient. They must be able to quickly triage patients and then treat patients in order of life-threatening priority. ER nurses thrive in a chaotic environment and step up to meet the challenge.

In contrast, ICU nurses treat patients that require the highest level of care and work in a structured setting. ICU nurses use specialized skills and training to closely monitor and assess fragile and critical patients, many who are often hanging on by a thread. Patients are often ventilated, intubated, and hooked up to a variety of medication drips. ICU nurses have the ability to act quickly should a patient take a turn. In addition, ICU nurses become advocates for their patients and their families. ICU nurses are typically structured and organized.

ICU Travel Nursing

The demand for ICU nurses is high across the country and this opens many opportunities for ICU nurses. Becoming an ICU travel nurse allows you to travel and experience different hospitals across the country. Travel nurse assignments typically last 13 weeks and include housing and travel costs. You are able to travel the country and visit new places, all while doing the job you love. In addition, travel ICU nurses are often paid higher wages as they are often in greater demand. To learn more about becoming an ICU travel nurse and the opportunities available to you, contact Sunbelt Staffing today.

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