How to Become an ICU Nurse
If you have the drive to help people by changing or saving their lives, then becoming an ICU nurse could be a potential career choice for you. But ICU nurses are a special make of people — not everyone can handle the pressure of an intensive care unit and the chance to save a life.
But if you believe you have what it takes to fill the shoes of a real-life hero, here’s what you need to know about pursuing a career as an ICU nurse.
What is the Exact Role of an ICU Nurse?
These types of nurses are absolutely crucial to the successful operation and management of any hospital and most importantly, the intensive care unit.
The ICU’s primary focus is to take care of people who have suffered some form of trauma, a life-threatening accident, had major surgery, organ failure, heart attack, and stroke. The ICU also looks after cancer patients who have reached a very critical point in their care.
The role of an ICU nurse is to oversee the care of a patient in an ICU unit by continually reading and monitoring their vital signs. Often times, a patient’s life falls into their hands. If their vitals are deteriorating rapidly, it’s the ICU nurse’s job to notify the right person, in the best time-frame. In some cases, an ICU nurse will have to take an intervention into their own hands. They are also required to speak with family members and doctors on a regular basis.
Most patients who go into ICU are in critical condition. Some of the most common conditions an ICU nurse will face include:
- Post-operative patients who have received an organ transplant or open-heart surgery
- Trauma patients who are recovering from near-fatal incidences such as a car accident, shooting, or assault
- Infectious patients who are suffering from dangerous conditions such as sepsis
- Stroke patients who are in need of post-operative care and physical therapy
- Cancer patients admitted for recovery after intensive chemotherapy, transplant surgery, or infection
The role of an ICU nurse is an important and stressful job — no doubt about it. But it can also be very rewarding. Learning to handle the stress of a critical moment and find your focus is essential.
Critical Traits of an ICU Nurse
So, in order to become an ICU nurse what kind of person do you need to be? Some of the over-arching qualities include:
- An ability to handle the pressure of life-and-death situations
- Being a good communicator
- Being a true team player
- Being able to multi-task
- Having commitment and dedication to working long shifts
- A knack for critical thinking
- Above-par time management skills
Aside from these personal traits, it’s also important that an ICU nurse is in good physical health. This job requires you to be on your feet for many hours a day, so physical stamina is part-and-parcel of the position.
Dealing with Difficult Situations
The atmosphere of an ICU unit can be super-charged one minute, and relatively somber the next. Being able to separate yourself emotionally from this vast range in work atmosphere is crucial.
Ultimately, an ICU nurse has to remember how important their job is and not let their own personal feelings come in the way of a life-and-death decision. But this is not to say you cannot feel or express empathy. In fact, this is another important part of the job. ICU nurses often deal with traumatic, end-of-life situations. You should be able to offer both psychological support and empathy to family members.
The same goes for applying or withholding medical care when a patient has a living will in place. If their wish is to not be kept on life support, it is your job to obey their wishes. This may feel like a completely unnatural part of the job. It goes against everything nurses are taught about saving lives. But if this is a legal wish, it must be honored.