Intensive Care Unit Careers

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue in intensive career units. Read on to learn more about career options along with salary and licensure information. Schools offering Allied Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Intensive Care Unit Professional?

It takes a lot of people to run a hospital. The same is true for the number of people working in an intensive care unit where the most critical of patients are housed. Critical care nurses hold at least an associates and are registered with the state. These professionals are trained to work with doctors and other staff to evaluate, assess and record the information of intensive care patients. They run and monitor any medical equipment attached to patients and run any tests ordered by the physicians. Anesthesiologists collaborate with physicians to determine the best anesthetic needed whether it be spinal, intravenous or local. They keep precise records of the type and amount. Respiratory therapists evaluate and monitor treatments for patients with breathing problems. They will collect everything from blood to sputum and analyze the material to find proper oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.

Get details on the education needed for various positions, and check the salary potential for a few ICU jobs from the following table.

Critical Care Nurses Anesthesiologists Respiratory Therapists
Degree Required Associate's or bachelor's degree Medical school completion (M.D. or D.O.) Associate's or bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Nursing Medicine, anesthesiology Respiratory therapy
Licensure/Certification Required Registered nurse licensure Medical license; board certification in anesthesiology Respiratory therapy licensure; certification may be required or preferred
Key Skills Ability to stay calm under pressure, medical knowledge, first aid Compassion, precision, medical knowledge Medical knowledge, compassion, ability to stay calm under pressure
Job Growth (2014-2024) 16% (for all registered nurses)* 14% (for all physicians and surgeons)* 12%*
Median Salary (2017) $69,518** $360,677** $63,942**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **

What Intensive Care Unit Careers Are There?

Some professionals that work in intensive care units of hospitals include critical care nurses, anesthesiologists and respiratory therapists. If you become a critical care nurse, you would administer medicine, treat wounds, monitor patients and offer support. Nurses need to obtain licensure by passing the appropriate National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).

If you become an anesthesiologist, you would relieve the pain of patients in an intensive care unit and check vital signs during operations. As a respiratory therapist, you would work under the supervision of a physician providing respiratory treatments and caring for patients on life support. You might provide emergency care to patients who have survived heart attacks, strokes, drowning and shock. You could also help premature infants with lungs that aren't fully developed and elderly patients with respiratory diseases.

What Should I Study?

To become an anesthesiologist, you need to complete a bachelor's degree program, four years of medical school and 3-8 years in an internship or residency. You would also need to obtain certification in this specialty. Critical care nurses must enroll in a nursing program, during which you would take classes and learn experientially from in a medical setting. You would study anatomy, chemistry, nutrition, psychology and nursing theory.

You can find associate's degree and bachelor's degree programs in respiratory therapy through colleges and universities, medical schools, vocational schools and the military. Your coursework would include anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology, chemistry, physics, microbiology, pharmacology and mathematics. You would learn about treatments, diagnostic procedures, equipment, patient assessment, CPR and respiratory health. Most states require respiratory therapists to obtain licensure.

What Might I Earn?

According to, the median annual wage for registered nurses in an intensive care unit was $69,518 as of February 2017 ( Respiratory therapists earned a median annual wage of $63,942 that same year. Anesthesiologists who were employed in general medical and surgical hospitals earned a median annual salary of $360,677, as per According to the Bureau of Labor Statisics, anesthesiologists earned a salary of $258,100, on average in 2015.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Related careers needing an associate's degree might include a dental hygienist or any number of medical technologist jobs. Dental hygienists exam patients for tooth decay, clean teeth and do other preventative work. Technologists would find work operating equipment, running tests or developing images for clinics or labs in medical specialties. Alternative careers with a bachelor's degree might be as an athletic trainer working with bone and muscle injuries. With a doctoral degree, a related field might be in chiropractic medicine adjusting a patient's spine to manage their health concerns.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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