Job Description of an ICU Registered Nurse

Intensive care units are often for life-threatening situations.
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Though both men and women can have the necessary personal skills and temperaments necessary to work as a nurse, the field remains dominated by women. Men make up only 5 to 6 percent of all registered nurses in the United States, according to the non-profit organization, The Truth About Nursing. The same holds true for Intensive Care Unit RNs, who make up around 37 percent of all hospital nurses, and provide specialized care to patients with life-threatening conditions. ICU registered nurses fulfill a number of vital duties while treating critical-care patients.

Education and Training

    Intensive Care Unit registered nurses must fulfill certain educational requirements to work in an ICU. At the very least, a registered nurse must earn a nursing certification, associate degree in nursing, or bachelor's in nursing, and pass the national licensing exam. While some nursing programs offer some exposure to critical-care principles, most ICU RNs learn on the job or by earning an advanced degree in critical-care nursing. Not required by every employer, certification as a critical-care nurse also provides the RN with additional training and credentials to advance in her career. Some ICU registered nurses opt for a specialization, such as pediatrics, cardiology or oncology, and receive specialized training for those disciplines that apply to an ICU setting.

Patient Care

    The main duty of an ICU registered nurse is to care for critically ill patients. This means taking vital signs, constantly monitoring a patient's condition, administering necessary drugs, and alerting other medical staff of any changes or emergencies. The ICU RN oversees various procedures such as ventilation, heart monitoring and anesthesia. Additionally, the ICU nurse manages a patient's visitors and assures a sterile environment. An ICU nurse assesses a patient's situation and evaluates the risks of certain procedures and treatments. Along with providing care, the ICU RN educates the patient and his family members on the patient's condition and treatment options.

Patient Advocate

    Because the patients of an ICU face life-threatening conditions, the ICU RN acts as an advocate for each patient, ensuring that the rest of the ICU staff respect each patient's rights and wishes. Many times, an ICU RN will face moral and social dilemmas regarding end-of-life care and treatment, and must be sure to have the patient's comfort and best interests in the forefront at all times. The ICU RN acts as a contact person for the patient, his family and friends, and his other healthcare providers. In cases where a patient cannot speak for himself, the ICU nurse intervenes for that patient.

Work Environment

    While most ICU registered nurses work directly in an ICU, some provide critical care in other settings as well. Of the 503,124 critical-care nurses in the United States, about half work in ICUs and one-fifth work in emergency departments. The remaining critical-care nurses serve in step-down or transitional care units or post-operative recovery. Because the patients in ICU face life-or-death situations, ICU registered nurses must be able to remain calm under pressure, make quick decisions, and provide quality care in high-stress circumstances.

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