What is a Critical Care Nurse?

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  • Written By: Alexis W.
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 08 April 2020
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A critical care nurse is a registered nurse who works with patients who are acutely in need of care or who are seriously ill. Such a nurse most commonly works in an emergency room or intensive care unit of a hospital. Critical care nurses may check vital signs of a patient, perform triage work in determining which patients are the most seriously in need of a doctor's attention, or do other steps necessary to care for those individuals experiencing a severe medical crisis.

Generally, in order to become a critical care nurse, an individual must first become a registered nurse. This can be done through obtaining an associate's degree in nursing, which is a two-year program. It an also be done by completing a four-year academic program and earning a bachelor's in nursing science. The nursing student must also pass national board exams to become a registered nurse.

Once a person has become a registered nurse, he or she can become a critical care nurse either through obtaining experience in an emergency room or other critical care setting, or by continuing his education in order to obtain certification in critical are nursing. Often, a person becomes a critical care nurse by a combination of education and experience. For example, he may work in a hospital ER for a year and then apply for admission to a program offering certification in critical care nursing.


Some hospitals mandate that all critical care nurses have additional certification above and beyond a registered nursing certificate. Others do not have this requirement. The individual hospital's emergency room or intensive care unit can set its own policies regarding hiring nurses, in compliance with the needs of the hospital and the prevalence of available nurses within the area.

Once a person is hired as a critical care nurse, he performs many important functions within the hospital setting. Patients in the emergency room or intensive care setting may experience a wide variety of conditions. A critical care nurse may thus have to deal with everything from a gunshot wound to a stab wound to an asthma attack or a broken arm. The nurse must be able to quickly assess the seriousness of the given injuries and respond in kind, facilitating patient access to doctors and assisting doctors in performing any and all life-saving procedures necessary. The level of stress and responsibility associated with being a nurse in a critical care unit is generally one of the highest in the nursing profession.



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