Should You Become a Critical Care Nurse?
July 2, 2014
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With so many great options for specialties in nursing, it can be hard to narrow it down to just one choice. But if you're considering a career as a critical care nurse, here are a few things to consider.
Quantity versus Acuity
From minimal care for many patients, to maximal care for just a few, the field of nursing is varied. The latter patient is what we refer to as a "high acuity" patient, and that is who a critical care nurse focuses on the most. According to the American Association of Critical Care Nurses, these professionals must have a more specialized knowledge in order to engage advanced techniques and equipment. This includes things such as ventilators, intercranial pressure monitoring and cardiac monitoring or telemetry.
Do you prefer taking care of numerous patients that are medically stable, or fewer patients who require a higher, more specific level of attention? Don't think that having only one or two patients means you'll be less busy. Just one patient can keep you occupied when he is in constant need of monitoring and medication.
Are You an Adrenaline Junkie?
Healthcare can be unpredictable in any situation, but critical care nurses, in particular, will have very few constants from day to day or even from hour to hour. Because their patients' conditions are less stable, they'll encounter a far higher frequency of "code" or CPR situations; critical care nurses therefore need to be able to keep their cool under constantly fluctuating circumstances and emergency situations, even more so than long-term care nurses. If you thrive on constant change and hate doing the same routine every day, critical care nursing might be for you.
So, if you prefer a narrower focus on higher acuity patients, how do you begin? The most traditional path has been working your way up in the hospital from a medical-surgical floor to a telemetry unit, then to a critical care area such as ICU (Intensive Care Unit) or CCU (Cardiac Care Unit). Medical-surgical units provide the basic training as you transition from student to working nurse, and the telemetry unit polishes your cardiac monitoring skills and your knowledge of emergency medications in the event of a cardiac arrest.
Wherever you start, get a jump on your American Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) training, the advanced CPR training for healthcare workers who specialize in critical care areas. You'll need it for when you apply to your hospital's critical care areas.
Kick-Start Your Career
For those who want to cut right to the chase — a common personality trait in a critical care nurse — you may also find a hospital with a special training program for critical care nursing. Because there is such a great demand for these specialty nurses, some hospitals are taking brand new graduates from nursing programs and giving them an extended preceptorship in which they go directly into critical care.
So, do you think you have what it takes to be a critical care nurse? If so, you'll find that as an experienced critical care nurse you'll be in more demand than most of your peers when it comes time to get to work.
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