All You Need To Know About A Critical Care Nurse

Critical Care Nurse

What Is A Critical Care Nurse?

A critical care nurse is a nurse who specifically works with patients who are experiencing a severe illness or injury and who therefore need close attention and care in order to recover adequately. These are the patients with the most serious and life-threatening conditions, making this type of nursing a fairly stressful career to pursue within the health care profession. Nurses interested in this career should review their personality traits carefully.

Nature Of The Work/Duties

There are a large number of different duties that a critical nurse is expected to perform:

  • Identify patients’ needs and develop relevant care plans
  • Provide care after death
  • Perform approved procedures
  • Decide when emergency interventions are needed
  • Do blood transfusions and monitor for reactions
  • Advocate for patients’ and families’ needs
  • Keep track of patients’ fluid intake
  • Monitor patients for major changes in their condition
  • Assess pain levels and sedate when necessary
  • Assess patients’ psychosocial status
  • Collect specimens for laboratory tests
  • Document patients’ medical histories, treatment plans, interventions, outcomes, plan revisions and assessment findings
  • Assist physicians with procedures
  • Assess family adaptation levels and coping skills to determine whether intervention is needed
  • Plan, provide, or evaluate educational programs
  • Supervise and monitor unit nursing staff


As a critical care nurse you will, effectively, be able to seek employment anywhere where there are patients who require critical care. The places where you can find employment as a critical care nurse include coronary and intensive care, telemetry units or facilities, progressive care units in hospitals, or flight units. Although these are the most common places to find critical care nurses, they are not the only places. Critical care nurses are often employed to work shifts, so you must be prepared to work at times that may not necessarily be convenient for you. However shift work such as this is true of any nursing specialty or sub-profession within the industry.

Critical Care Nurse Requirements

These are the requirements needed for becoming a critical care nurse:

  • To begin you must get your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
  • Then you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) which will allow you to begin working as a registered nurse (RN)
  • You must work as an RN for a minimum of two years in critical care
  • You must take continuing education classes (the amount of hours are set by your hospital)
  • After you have done that you must apply to take the certification exam specific to your specialty area
  • Get your critical care nursing certification from the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN)
  • You must take a certain amount continuing education classes certification (rules depend on where you work)
  • After you have done this you will be a Certified Critical Care Nurse (CCRN)

Personality Traits

Critical Care NursingThere are a number of personality requirements that you should have for a job of this kind. Many of these requirements are necessary for all forms of nursing while others included here are specific to critical care nursing. The most important skill is active listening as this facilitates your ability to show compassion. The other skills you will need are the ability to teach and instruct others, such as patients, the ability to engage in persuasion, systems analysis skills, time management skills, the ability to manage personnel resources in emergency situations, communication skills, such as speaking, reading and writing clearly and concisely in English or the language of choice at your facility, dedication to service orientation, social perceptiveness, critical thinking, good judgment, problem-solving, and decision making skills, coordination skills, negotiation skills, and quality control analysis skills.

Educational Requirements

The educational requirements for this line of work start with earning a high school diploma which will gain you access to a nursing program. You then have to earn both a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree in nursing before moving forward with the career. There are some things that you can keep in mind in terms of the educational requirements for being a critical nurse. You can choose to focus on subspecialties like:

  • Neonatal intensive care
  • Pediatric intensive care
  • Adult intensive care

Continuing education is an important part of your job, since you’ll need to stay up to date on the latest advancements in technology and care. These continuing education units will also allow you to feel more confident in the line of work that you have chosen to pursue.


To become a critical care nurse you need to hold an RN license. This is to allow you to work as an RN and gain the necessary experience for becoming a critical care nurse. To earn your RN license you will need to complete an accredited RN training program. Once you have spent the time necessary to do this, you will be able to apply for licensure form your state board of nursing. Once they have confirmed that you are indeed eligible for licensure you can apply to write the exam with Pearson VUE the administering body. Passing the exam will allow you to become licensed in your state. Depending on the rules in your state you will be required to renew your license once every few years and engage in continuing education.

How To Become A Critical Care Nurse

Training, Advancement And Other Qualifications

The following is a fairly comprehensive list of the training you need for the job:

  • English Language: most hospitals and health care facilities work in English, so being able to communicate effectively in this language is extremely important
  • Customer and Personal Service
  • Biology and Mathematics: if possible, focus on these topics while you are still in school to prepare for your career as a critical care nurse.
  • Education and Training
  • Psychology, Therapy and Counseling: Because critical care patients often experience significant traumas and may even die, you will need to be able to provide appropriate support for the patient and/or their family.
  • Sociology and Anthropology
  • Chemistry
  • Computers and Electronics: these days nursing involves using complex machinery, so knowledge in this area will be taught during your training.

Source An Accredited Education Program

It is extremely important that you complete your RN training as well as any critical care nursing training that you plan to do through an accredited program. Both your bachelor’s and master’s degrees must be completed through an accredited school or else you will be unable to take the necessary examinations. The school itself should provide you with information regarding its accreditation status, but it is always better to double check this information by enquiring about the school through your state board of nursing. Your state board of nursing also provides a list of accredited schools in order to make your initial search for a school easier. Nurses currently employed in facilities near you will also be able to point you in the direction of the accredited schools that they attended to get where they are today.

Earn Your Associate’s Degree

Although an associate’s degree is a good way to get your foot in the door of the nursing industry, you will ultimately need to earn a master’s degree to be a critical care nurse. Your associate’s degree is nothing more than a stepping stone to your full qualification. To earn an associate’s degree:

  • Explore the schools in your area offering nursing programs
  • Create a short list of the best options and apply for those you are interested in remembering to adhere to the specific application requirements of each
  • Select the best school and complete the education requirements that the school asks of you
  • Once you have graduated from the program you will have an associate’s degree and you will be able to begin the process of becoming an RN and getting some experience.

Obtain Your Licensure

The only license that you strictly speaking need for this line of work is your RN license. You have the options of becoming certified as a critical care nurse, but this is not compulsory at all. However if you do choose to become certified you will expand your employment opportunities significantly and open the door to expand your career in the future. In order to do this a critical care nurse must care for critically ill patients for a minimum of two years to be eligible for the CCRN certification exam offered by AACN. You can choose the area of critical care that you would like to specialize in. the exam that you will write to earn certification will be easy enough if you have experience and you have revised the subject matter likely to appear on the test.

Online/Distance Education Programs

It is possible to do your critical care nursing training online. One example of a school offering this is:

  • Duquesne University
  • Master of Science in Nursing
  • Masters

However it is important to remember that nursing qualifications always include a practical aspect during training, which, of course, cannot be completed online. This means that you may need to make provisions to complete your clinical training yourself at a nearby health care facility. It is also important to ensure that the school you attend is in fact accredited as this will ensure that you will not waste your time and your money. Online study can be extremely convenient provided that you have the will power and self-motivation capabilities necessary to complete the theory portion of a nursing program in this manner and that you pick the right school.

Job Outlook

Because there is such a shortage of critical care nurses and critical care nursing units across the country, too many people are being treated in inadequate conditions, which is why it has been suggested that hospitals of the future will be large critical care units, and other types of care will be provided in alternative locations or at home. This is good for critical care nurses who are looking at the long term job outlook for the career. In the short term it is worth noting that the nursing industry is expanding at a faster rate than any other industry, meaning that more and more jobs are available every year. In addition there will always be a need for critical care nurses with their specific skill set in this world.


Depending on what your status is in a hospital you may earn slightly different rates with critical care nursing certification:

  • As a Registered Nurse (RN) you will earn around $22.47 – $44.13 an hour
  • As a Nurse in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) you will earn around $21.74 – $42.64 an hour
  • As a Charge Nurse (RN) you will earn around $24.93 – $51.38 an hour
  • As a Registered Nurse (RN) working in the Emergency Room you will earn around $23.19 – $50.52 an hour
  • As a Clinical Nurse Manager you will earn around $24.43 – $49.18 an hour

The school you attend could affect your salary:

  • University of Phoenix (UOP) = $34.22 – $46.00 an hour
  • University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) = $31.49 – $39.61 an hour
  • University of Washington (UW) = $28.50 – $40.00 an hour

Last but not least certain cities pay more than others:

  • In Houston, Texas you will earn around $25.58 – $41.02 an hour
  • In Orlando, Florida you will earn around $22.82 – $42.50 an hour
  • In Atlanta, Georgia you will earn around $22.67 – $40.72 an hour
  • In Denver, Colorado you will earn around $25.66 – $37.77 an hour
  • In Chicago, Illinois you will earn around $30.26 – $47.96 an hour

As a critical care nurse there are a number of opportunities available to you both in terms of salary and career, but also in terms of the rewarding nature of the job.