Critical care nurses, those who work on critically ill patients in intensive care units, emergency departments, and other units, have likely had some of the most intense moths of their careers this spring. As the last week of National Critical Care Awareness Month is celebrated, this designation brings attention to the specialty work performed by these nurses across the nation.
Because of the unpredictable and often hectic cases they work with, nurses in this specialty need to have an innate ability to work in a calm and steady manner no matter what the conditions. As their patients face serious and life-threatening situations, critical care nurses are there to assess the patient, monitor for changes, treat injuries or problems, and provide thorough and immediate hand-off instructions.
Critical care nurses can work in various locations, but the care they provide is especially important for patients whose conditions are not stable. As these nurses have seen and relayed many times over, the COVID-19 crisis has shown why this kind of nursing is so essential. Patients with COVID-19 are often improving, says nurses, or showing signs of only minor distress before their conditions abruptly worsen. As a critical care nurse, watching that patient closely and continuously monitoring for any changes in vital signs, comfort level, breathing and talking, or overall general behavior can help give the patient the right care. Critical care nurses all over the world have been alert to these kinds of changes in condition and have been able to implement life-saving measures for many. As a nurse in this specialty, many nurses have also faced the opposite situation and have had many patients die despite being given the best treatment and care.
Becoming a critical care nurse requires a commitment to getting at least your BSN or most likely your MSN, continuing with certification and additional professional development, and recognizing the personal and very real impacts of this role. The American Association of Critical Care Nurses and the Society of Critical Care Medicine offer excellent resources, tips, and guidance for those considering this career path and for those who are already experienced critical care nurses. Critical care nurses face the highest highs and the lowest lows, often within one day, and sometimes from gut-wrenching situations. As a nurse in this field, it’s essential to understand how you’ll process so much emotionally. Managing job stress is a top priority. Of course, nurses enter the field because they do well under pressure and can keep calm and focused for the sake of their patients, their teams, and themselves. But sustained and traumatic caseloads, as have happened with COVID-19, or even a case that can strike an emotional chord for some reason, can take a toll on nurses. If you’re considering this field, honestly understanding if this is something you’d be suited for is critical.
There is high demand for critical care nurses in the job market, so your skills are needed across the country. If you think this is a good career path for you or if you’ve already chosen this path, the rewards of being a critical care nurse are significant. You are the voice of your patient and you’re able to make choices and be the best advocate for your patient. Being able to do that and knowing you have provided the best care possible while ensuring your patient’s best interests is gratifying.