A Day in the Life of an ICU Nurse in Salt Lake City

ICU nurse in Salt Lake City monitoring patient
Written by
Jenna Elizabeth
December 27, 2023

Table of Contents

It’s 5:00 a.m., and you’ve just woken up for a shift at an intensive care unit (ICU) in a local hospital in Salt Lake City. 

An hour later, you arrive at the facility, clock in using Nursa’s per diem nursing app, and discover that you will be responsible for a patient who arrived at the intensive care unit because of an automobile accident. The patient has suffered some rib fractures and some soft-tissue wounds but is stable. You will be in charge of closely monitoring the patient throughout your shift. Before jumping in, you start your day with a strong cup of coffee or hot tea and a look at the stunning skyline with mountains on all sides to put your brain in ICU nurse mode. This article portrays a day in the life of an ICU nurse in Salt Lake City.

What Is ICU Nursing?

ICU nursing involves caring for critically ill patients, and ICU nurses have experience and training in managing patients with life-threatening conditions. Like other nursing positions, ICU nurse jobs involve patient care, such as monitoring, medication administration, basic needs assistance, and charting. One distinction of ICU nurses is that they are well-prepared to respond to emergencies and skilled in providing patients with life-saving care.

Another particularity is that the patient-to-nurse ratio in an intensive care unit should generally be one nurse to one patient (1:1) or a maximum of one nurse for every two patients (1:2). These nurse-to-patient ratios are important in order to monitor a patient’s condition closely. As a result, ICU nursing calls for an individual who can handle stressful situations with a calm and assertive demeanor. 

What Can I Expect on a Typical Day of ICU Nursing?

Most ICU nurses will agree that every day is different when working in the intensive care unit. Shifts may be eight to 12 hours long, with responsibilities that include following hospital protocols, administering medications, performing various procedures, and closely monitoring the patients assigned to them. Thus, even though each shift will be unique, keep reading to learn what an ICU nurse’s day may entail.

Break Room Meeting and Shift Report/Handoff

At some hospitals, a typical day starts in the break room with a charge nurse and the rest of the nursing staff working in the ICU. A charge nurse is a registered nurse (RN) who supervises a nursing unit during a shift. This meeting is commonly when each nurse will be assigned their patient or patients. Next is a handover at the beginning of each ICU nursing shift, also known as a patient, bedside, or shift report. This handoff contains crucial information regarding a patient’s condition, such as the reason they are in the hospital, as well as additional details like the following: 

  • Lab values
  • Allergies 
  • Information regarding intravenous lines and gastric feeding tubes 
  • Urine and bowel movements (intake and output)
  • Wound dressing changes 
  • Spontaneous or voluntary movements 
  • Sedation levels
  • Other miscellaneous or notable events that took place while the patient was in the ICU

An ICU handover calls for careful communication and attention to detail. An effective shift handoff report requires that nurses review and discuss all pertinent patient care information. In fact, appropriately executed handovers are among the most essential elements of safe clinical care.

Patient Assessment and Saying Hello

Two ICU nurses in Salt Lake City working with patient
ICU nurses must have a high level of skill and experience to care for critically-ill patients.

Once you know how many patients you will have during your shift, you will begin conducting patient assessments. But first, go into the room to introduce yourself and say hello if your patient is awake. While your primary responsibility is to provide life-saving and critical care, being human and connecting with your patients as much as possible is crucial. Once you’ve said hello, you may need to chart a full head-to-toe patient assessment, also known as a physical exam or health assessment. A head-to-toe patient assessment is critical in determining an ICU patient’s needs and issues. This assessment can include taking vital signs, monitoring heart rate, and measuring blood pressure, among other things, to provide a comprehensive report on a patient’s condition. You may perform this evaluation at the start of each shift, and sometimes every two to four hours, to assess any changes in your patient’s condition. A complete head-to-toe assessment ensures that a nurse can detect even minor changes during a patient’s ICU stay. 

Daily Care Plan and Interprofessional Rounding 

An effective daily care plan and consistent monitoring require collaboration from all departments. While you will be primarily in charge of each patient during your shift, input from other hospital therapists will be necessary. Interprofessional rounding is a term used to describe this kind of change-of-shift collaboration that establishes the daily care plan for that day. It enables healthcare professionals with overlapping expertise—for example, nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, and social workers—to coordinate treatment, educate patients and their families, and provide the highest quality of care to patients in the intensive care unit.

For instance, if your patient has been fed intravenously during their hospital stay, you may have a multidisciplinary “rounding” with a registered dietician regarding their current diet. Additionally, you may work with a wound care nurse to discuss the frequency of a patient’s dressing changes for soft tissue wounds. Or, you may meet with a respiratory therapist or anaesthesiologist to discuss current sedation levels and the type and amount of sedation required to keep a patient comfortable. 

Finally, a daily care plan may also involve evaluating family and social dynamics while a patient is confined to bed. This plan could include working with a hospital’s social worker. Family meetings can serve as an effective channel between the intensive care unit’s nurses and other medical professionals. These meetings can help support patients and their families emotionally and provide education during a patient’s hospital stay. So, while caring for one or up to two patients will be your primary responsibility during an ICU shift, effectively communicating with the rest of the healthcare team is essential to ICU nursing work. 

Patient Monitoring 

After completing a patient assessment and meeting with other ICU medical staff, you will move into the monitoring part of your ICU nursing shift. Responsibilities during a shift in the ICU may vary depending on the type of facility you choose to work in. Still, you will likely monitor a patient’s vital signs and respond immediately to any changes or emergencies. Additionally, you may be in charge of administering medication and operating ICU equipment such as ventilators and monitors. You will also remain hypervigilant of ICU machinery’s beeps and sensors, quickly address any sudden changes in a patient’s condition, and monitor, administer, and maintain continuous IV infusion per drip or titration orders.

Preparing for the Unexpected 

Any ICU nurse will tell you to expect the unexpected when working in the ICU. In the intensive care unit, spontaneous bleeding, low blood pressure, heart rhythm problems, or cardiac arrest can all occur suddenly and without warning. Also, death may be unavoidable for some patients admitted to the ICU. Because of this, ICU nurses need to have a healthy dose of compassion, emotional stability, and a renewed sense of purpose when they start a new ICU shift. Similarly, when you clock out and hand over your shift to the next nurse, do your best to convey your support for them and the shift they will take over.

How Much Do ICU Nurses Make?

The job of an ICU nurse calls for patience, attention to detail, and the ability to stay calm in extremely tense situations. With a strong ICU nurse resume, you can feel confident about finding jobs in various medical settings. In addition, an ICU nurse can expect to earn a competitive salary that allows a comfortable lifestyle while not at work. 

One of the benefits of ICU nursing jobs is that ICU nurses can work in almost every single setting, from hospital emergency rooms to trauma centers and outpatient care centers—the sky’s the limit. With that in mind, the average RN salary in the United States is $89,010 per year, or $42.80 per hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In Utah, RNs make an average salary of $76,400 per year, but 10 percent of RNs make over $98,000. Although ICU nursing wages vary, these figures offer a useful frame of reference.

How Much Does an RN Make in Salt Lake City?

RNs in Salt Lake City earn a mean wage of $79,370 annually or $38.16 hourly, much higher than the state average. Furthermore, an ICU nurse in Salt Lake City working per diem can earn an even more competitive hourly rate, especially if a facility requires last-minute ICU coverage. 

two ICU nurses performing a shift report and handoff
Nurses who work in the ICU must conduct efficient bedside shift handoffs to ensure continuity of care.

A New Day, A New ICU Shift

A day in the life of an ICU nurse in Salt Lake City is fast-paced, demanding, and—yes, at times—exhausting. From the moment you step into the hospital or other medical facility where you will be working, you must be prepared physically and emotionally for the ups and downs of that day. Nevertheless, working in the ICU is also a fulfilling and heartfelt job, with daily opportunities to influence patients’ lives. 

Although working as an ICU nurse demands expertise and resilience to navigate tricky medical situations, many nurses view ICU nursing as a rewarding career. If you have experience working in the intensive care unit, put your superhero skills to work and help save a life by finding per diem registered nurse jobs in Salt Lake City.

Blog published on:
December 27, 2023

Meet Jenna, a contributing copywriter at Nursa who writes about healthcare news and updates, empathy and compassion for nurses, how to show staff appreciation and increase retention, and guides that help nurses navigate career pathways.

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