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ICU Nursing: What You Need to Know About Working in the Intensive Care Unit

It’s easy to respect someone strong and independent, but it takes a special kind of person to give dignity to those who cannot return the favor—those who are helpless. If you’ve ever been to the ICU, you know that the good nurses working there are a different breed. Not only are they calm under pressure, but they can see beyond a patient’s weakness to the person underneath who has a family, a life, hobbies, and goals. If you can share that sentiment, the ICU needs more people like you.

Like all fields in nursing, the ICU has its challenges and rewards. If you consider becoming an intensive care unit nurse, you probably have many questions. We’ve researched so you can be confident in your decision. We’ll cover what ICU nurses do, their skills, and typical patients, but first—what exactly is the ICU?

What is the intensive care unit?

An best ICU services in faisalabad sometimes called intensive therapy or critical care unit. Shifa international hospital faisalabad in 24-hour best intensive care unit facilities provided. This unit is reserved for some of the most vulnerable patients in a healthcare system—those who are critically ill and need close supervision in case their condition rapidly takes a turn for the worse. The ICU is often the next step for patients who’ve made a (justified) trip to the emergency room after the ER team determines they’ve stabilized enough to move on.

One major difference in this unit for nurses is the nurse-to-patient ratio—typically, ICU units strive for one to two patients per nurse. This might seem like a big swing compared to nursing units or specialties that care for five or more patients at a time but remember, ICU nurses need to check in on their patients much more often due to the level of care required and the seriousness of their conditions.

Some ICUs specialize in certain areas, such as pediatric, cardiac, or trauma care, but many serve a general purpose. Occupational, respiratory, and physical therapists, dieticians, doctors, and nurses collaborate in these units to achieve successful patient recovery.

What do ICU nurses do?

Like other nurses, ICU nurses monitor patients, administer medications, assist patients with basic needs, chart care, and respond to emergencies. Unlike some other nurses, their patients are often intubated, ventilated, and have multiple IV drips at a time. They must know the ins and outs of a lot more equipment than nurses who practice in a lower-stakes environment.

They must also chart much more to keep up with the intensive monitoring, assessments, and equipment. Though they have fewer patients, they may have two or three times more documentation per patient—and keeping that information accurate is critical when passing the patient along to the next shift’s nurse.

It’s a good thing, though, because those charts help these nurses stay organized. They must coordinate dozens of medications and treatments, adapting as the patient improves or worsens. ICU nurses must stay organized—emergencies can pop up fairly frequently, often right when you’re making your rounds.

Another thing ICU nurses do is interact with patient families. Understandably, many of them are distraught. Not only is their family member significantly ill or injured, but they are potentially unresponsive, hooked up to many machines, and surrounded by many different medical professionals. As an ICU nurse, reassuring families while still being realistic is important.

What are some common conditions ICU nurses treat?

The kind of patients you take care of will determine a lot about your experience as a nurse. After all, moms in labor, a grandma in hospice, and the kid who broke his leg on the playground are all different patients.

If you want to work in the ICU, your patients will still be different. You know they’ll be in critical condition, but before nursing school, it’s hard to know what to expect. Below are a few of the most common conditions you will treat in the ICU:1

  • Post-operative. This is the most common kind of patient in the ICU. Patients who have just received open-heart surgery or had an organ transplant need close monitoring during recovery.
  • Trauma. Patients may be transferred from the emergency room after a car accident, assault or shooting. They may have multiple complications, including traumatic brain injury or shock.
  • Infection. Dangerous infections such as sepsis can cause various life-threatening complications and require an extremely sanitary and closely-monitored environment to recover.
  • Stroke. In addition to post-operative care, stroke patients need diagnostic imaging and physical therapy.
  • Cancer. Cancer patients may need to be admitted for recovery after intensive chemotherapy, an unexpected infection, or transplant surgery.
  • Ruptured brain aneurysm. Controlling a patient’s blood pressure may sound like a simple task, but even the smallest fluctuation could cause more bleeding in a case like this.

What skills do ICU nurses need?

We analyzed over 80,000 ICU nurse job postings in the past year to determine what technical skills you need to work in the ICU.2 Here is what we found:

  • Advanced cardiac life support (ACLS)
  • Patient care
  • Critical care
  • Life support
  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
  • Trauma
  • Patient/family education and instruction
  • Telemetry
  • Discharge planning

While some are self-explanatory, like patient and critical care, others are not. If you don’t know what advanced cardiac life support is, don’t worry. This is the kind of thing you will learn in Nursing school. If you want to sharpen your skills, you can focus on the qualities that make ICU nurses great.

What qualities do the best ICU nurses share?

Our analysis of ICU nurse job postings also turned up this transferable skills:3

  • Planning
  • Communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Research
  • Computer literacy
  • Physical abilities
  • Problem-solving
  • Organization
  • Time management

This list is a little more familiar. You probably have all of these skills to some degree. Yet, it can be difficult to tell if they’ll hold up in a place like the ICU. After all, you may communicate well with your mom, but she’s never asked you to prep an IV. 

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