Critical Care Nursing

Critical care nursing is an area of nursing that focuses on dangerously ill patients, such as premature babies, cancer patients and trauma victims. Education and certification in critical care nursing can lead to a career in intensive care, emergency medicine or pediatric care. Continue reading to learn more about the career outlook, job responsibilities and academic requirements for this field.

Is Critical Care Nursing for Me?

Career Overview

Critical care nurses are responsible for patients who are dealing with serious illness and require nearly constant monitoring. According to O*Net Online, critical care nurses monitor their patients' pain levels and watch them for changes in their status by using equipment such as ventilators, cardiac monitors and catheters (www.onetonline.org). To work in this field, you must start by becoming a registered nurse (RN), which requires earning at least an associate's or a bachelor's degree in nursing. As a critical or acute care nurse, you could work in clinics, intensive care units and emergency rooms.

Required Qualities

To work as a critical care nurse, you should be able to solve problems, make swift decisions, monitor your patients' behavior so you can take action if necessary and understand why your patients are acting in a certain way. You should also have a high tolerance for stress, pay close attention to detail, show concern for others and maintain self-control in difficult situations, according to O*Net.

Employment Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than 2.7 million people worked as RNs in May 2012, including advanced practice nurses and nurses working in specialties, such as critical care (www.bls.gov). Career growth in nursing should be excellent because of the growing number of elderly patients and the number of people taking advantage of preventative care. The BLS projected that employment growth for RNs would be 19% between 2012 and 2022. As of May 2012, the median annual salary for RNs was $65,470, reported the BLS.

How Do I Become a Critical Care Nurse?

Undergraduate Education, Licensing and Certification

To become a critical care nurse, you must start by earning an associate's or a bachelor's degree in nursing. Then, you must pass a national licensing exam to earn your nursing license and start practicing. After you become a licensed RN, you can start working in critical care. According to the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN), after you have acquired 1,750 hours providing direct care to critically ill patients in a 2-year period, you can apply to take the certification exam and become a certified critical care nurse (www.aacn.org). Additional nursing certifications are necessary if you want to work with a specific group of critical care patients, such as children or the elderly, according to the AACN.

Graduate Education

You can also complete a master's degree program in critical care nursing, nurse practitioner in critical care nursing or nursing with a specialization in critical care. This training can provide you with advanced knowledge for working with patients who are terminally ill or train you for leadership positions in emergency departments or trauma units. Your courses could cover diagnostics, patient health assessment, pharmacology and critical care nursing theories. You'll also complete clinical experiences and conduct research pertaining to critical care nursing.

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