ICU Nurse


The role of the ICU nurse unofficially began in the 1930s when recovery rooms were introduced into hospitals throughout the country.  However, the birth of the critical care unit was not until the late 1950s.  In 1965, the first specialized ICU was formed and this was a coronary care unit to try and reduce the mortality rate associated with heart attacks, which at the time, was 30 to 40 percent.  In 1969, the American Association of Critical Care Nurses was established to provide certification, educational support, journals, research and standards of practice.

ICU nurses work with high-acuity patients with a wide range of illnesses and injuries.  They work to restore patient health from issues that are life-threatening and complex.



ICU Nurse Salary

The average ICU nurse salary is $67,310 per year.  The lowest 10 percent earn an average of $54,441 per year and the highest 10 percent earn $78,181 per year.

ICU nurses work with very high acuity patients and this tends to earn them a larger salary that most other types of registered nurses.  When you look at a typical ICU nurse description, you will find that they must be able to think very quickly and critically so ensure that patients are properly cared for.  Patients of all ages can be seen and there are dozens of tasks that have to be done to ensure that they are recovering as they should.  Salary varies greatly based on things like your education level, how much experience you have, the hospital you work for and the part of the country you work in.  You will often find a greater salary at private hospitals than you will at a public hospital.


ICU Nurse Job Description

The ICU nurse works with patients who are experiencing severe medical issues, such as heart attack, shock, respiratory distress, stroke, severe trauma or other similar issues.  Pre- and post-operative patients may also be in the ICU for skilled and complex nursing care.  Responsibilities and duties will vary from place to place, but general ICU nursing duties include:

  • Assessing patients regularly
  • Assessing and recording vital signs
  • Observing for changes in a patient’s condition
  • Planning and implementing nursing care plans
  • Providing advanced life support
  • Wound care
  • Assisting the doctor with certain procedures
  • Ensuring that all medical equipment is clean and functioning properly
  • Administering intravenous fluids
  • Administering medications
  • Ordering diagnostic testing
  • Collaborating with other members of the healthcare team
  • Acting as a patient advocate
  • Providing education to the families of the patients on the unit


ICU Nurse Education

ICU nurses must complete either an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in nursing at an accredited school.  This will allow you to sit for your National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).  Many employers will want at least six to 12 months of registered nursing experience before you are able to become a nurse in the ICU.  Some will also prefer bachelor’s degree candidates over associate degree candidates.

When you are looking at how to become an ICU nurse, you will find that the program you complete will require both clinical hours and classroom instruction.  The clinical hours necessary will vary by state, and in some cases, the program that you choose to pursue.  If you pursue an associate degree, you will spend about two years in school.  If you pursue a bachelor’s degree, you will spend about four years in school.  The following classes are common in undergraduate nursing programs:

  • Medical surgical nursing
  • Obstetrical nursing
  • Acute care nursing
  • Pediatric nursing
  • Nutrition
  • Geriatric nursing
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatric nursing



ICU Nurse Certification and Licensing

You will need to pass your NCLEX-RN before you can pursue a career as an ICU nurse.  Once you have this and are working in acute care, you can choose to pursue your CCRN-E Adult Tele-ICU Acute/Critical Care Nursing Certification.  To be eligible for this examination, you must meet the following requirements:

  • An active, unrestricted registered nursing license
  • At least 1,750 hours of acute care nursing experience
  • Have eligible clinical practice hours
  • Pay applicable fees

This certification is obtained by successfully completing an examination.  The exam is 150 questions and you have three hours to complete it.  Once you have your certification, it is good for three years.  To renew your certification, you must meet the following requirements:

  • An active, unrestricted registered nursing license
  • 432 hours of acute care experience
  • Completion of all required continuing education credits

For continuing education, you will need 100 credits in three years.  These must be in the proper categories and most must be focused on ICU and critical care topics.  When you are renewing your certification, you must present proof that you completed the hours.


ICU Nurse Job Outlook

Between the years 2008 and 2018, the job opportunities for ICU nurses are expected to increase by 22 percent.  Acute care nursing is one of the fastest growing nursing fields.  This population in the United States is aging and this is resulting in people living longer with more serious medical conditions.  When they take a turn for the worse, ICU nurses are needed to help and restore their health.  For example, in the United States, there are increases in the diagnosis of various neurological conditions and cardiovascular diseases.  Accidents, falls and other injuries also bring many into ICU units throughout the country.



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