A Look At The Multifaceted Role Of A Critical-Care Nurse

August 20, 2014

Critical care nurses care for patients who are acutely or critically ill and ensure that they receive the best possible care. Patients who are at high risk for life-threatening health problems come under this category. These patients require intense and vigilant nursing care as they are often highly vulnerable and unstable and medical professionals working in this specialty make life-or-death decisions about patient care almost every day. With an ability to think on their feed, act decisively and stay calm and composed when lives are at stake, these nurses are among the most in-demand healthcare professionals today.

A student examining surgical scissors in the operating theatre, Tanzania. Critical-Care Settings

Nurses specialising in critical care work in a wide variety of settings, filling many roles including clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioners, bedside clinicians, nurse managers, nurse educators and nurse researchers.

Work settings within the hospital could include emergency departments, intensive care units, neonatal ICUs, paediatric ICUs, cardiac care units, recovery rooms, telemetry units and progressive care units.

Outside the hospital, these professionals are increasingly in demand in outpatient surgery centres, home healthcare and clinics.

In all of these settings patients require complex evaluations, extensive therapies and interventions and continual nursing attention. Professionals in this specialty rely upon a combination of specialised knowledge, skills and experience to provide the necessary high level care to patients and create environments that are healing, humane and caring.

They can also choose a non-clinical path as researchers, educators and nurse practitioners.

Essential Attributes for Critical-Care Nursing

Nurses in this specialty treat patients with life-threatening health problems. They also tend to the emotional well-being of their patients’ families. It’s no easy task. As a critical-care nurse, is essential to have endless compassion, excellent communication skills, and the ability to think clearly and  stay focused on the task at hand no matter what the chaos or the crisis around you. Being extremely organised and methodical in your work can be a huge asset in this role.  

Since critical-care nurses have a level of autonomy that most other nurses don’t, you need to have confidence in your skills and be able to think clearly and make quick decisions about patient care without being swayed by the circumstances.

Critical Care Nurse as Patient Advocate

Above all, a critical care nurse is a patient advocate. In this role, critical care nurses:

  • Respect the values, rights and beliefs of the patient.
  • Help the patient obtain necessary care.
  • Represent the patient in accordance with the patient’s choices.
  • Intercede when the interests of the patient are in question.
  • Mediate for patients who cannot speak for themselves in situations that require immediate action.
  • Monitor and safeguard the quality of care the patient receives.
  • Educate and support the patient or the patient’s designated surrogate to enable them to make some difficult decisions.
  • Act as a liaison between the patient, the patient’s family and other healthcare professionals.

Education & Training Requirements

To practice in this specialty, you must first qualify as a registered nurse.  Training usually takes place on the job, because intensive-care unit cannot be replicated in a training environment. Experience in a critical care setting carries considerable weight in the job market.

Although certification is not mandatory for practice in this specialty like critical care, many nurses prefer to obtain certification. Most employers prefer to hire certified professionals as it demonstrates acquisition of a high level of knowledge in their specialty

Beyond certification, critical-care nurses must make a lifelong commitment to learning. It can be challenging, because you have to stay abreast of new medications and technologies that save people’s lives.