Career Profile: ICU Nursing

February 29, 2016

Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.

See current opportunities

ICU nurse

ICU nursing, also known as critical care nursing, is a demanding but extremely satisfying specialty. ICU nurses care for patients experiencing life-threatening health problems. As the medical conditions of these patients are highly complex and intense, the pressing need is for nurses who possess the necessary specialised skills along with an in-depth understanding of the human body and medical interactions.

Role of an ICU Nurse

Critical thinking lies at the core of ICU nursing. All of your responsibilities will revolve around this central aspect. When a patient comes in needing emergency care, you need to be able to look at the big picture and make on the spot decisions regarding the best possible treatment options; this is where your critical thinking skills come into play. If you do not relish the idea of working under stress and taking snap decisions, this is not the specialty for you.

A critical care nurse is entrusted with a whole lot of responsibilities ranging from direct patient contact to organising things behind the scene. Some of these responsibilities include:

  • Identifying the patient’s condition by ordering tests and analysing the results.

  • Dispensing medicines, administering blood, checking blood, conducting tests, performing intubations and any other form of care that is necessary for the patient.

  • Acting as emotional support for the family of the patient and communicating the needs of the patient to them.

  • Acting as an advocate on behalf of the patient and liaising between doctors, patients and patients’ families.

  • Using technology and devices on hand to assist sustainment of life.

  • Besides taking care of the patient, an ICU nurse is also responsible for maintaining charts, keeping a check on schedules and ensuring that all the paperwork is sorted out for every patient. The roles and responsibilities of the nurse may also vary based on the kind of position and job.

    Critical care nurses work in a variety of hospital settings depending on their specialisation. Some may specialise in a paediatric or neonatal care while others may specialise in adult care or cardiac care. Depending on the setting, some ICU nurses may even be asked to manage recovery rooms or emergency rooms.

    Pros and cons of ICU Nursing

    As with every other healthcare specialty, ICU nursing has its fair share of pros and cons.

    Pros: ICU nurses usually do not work with as many patients as other nurses; this will often give you a little more free time than the others. ICU nurses also get more independence, and many of them have to interact directly with the doctors, so they learn a lot more and play a vital role in any healthcare team.

    Cons: Because of the critical condition of most patients in the ICU, the mortality rate is high in this specialty. ICU nurses see many deaths, and it’s not always possible to remain emotionally detached from this fact. ICU nurses tend to suffer from early burnout on the job because of the intense emotional upheaval. However, for those who can handle the emotional aspects, seeing their patients walk out of hospital is immensely satisfying and can make everything worthwhile.

    Chat with us on Facebook or Twitter, or email

    Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.