Working on Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and Critical Care Units (CCUs)

nurse next to a patient in critical condition
Written by
Jeremy Booher
Reviewed by
Miranda Kay, RN
August 16, 2022

Intensive care units (ICUs) and critical care units (CCUs) are some of the most intense environments in which a nurse can work. This nursing specialty requires highly-skilled registered nurses (RNs) who can communicate effectively, quickly make critical decisions, and maintain composure during stressful situations. Therefore, nurses in this highly skilled must be prepared to deal with death and dying.

ICU nursing takes a person who can handle the worst-case scenarios without losing their composure. This job requires a different kind of person who is highly skilled and ready to be kind, compassionate, caring, and professional while dealing with people in their most fragile states of health - mentally and physically. You also deal with upset family members to take care of these people. Therefore, you must be able to relay information in a way to keep the family calm yet be honest with the situation.

Are you interested in working in an ICU Unit or CCU? How much do you earn, and what does it take to work in a critical care unit? This article will cover the ICU and CCU and what it takes to be a CCU nurse or an ICU nurse, whether on travel, staff, or a PRN basis.

What Is An Intensive Care Unit (ICU)?

The intensive care units (ICUs) are units set up for particular patients in critical care and need constant observation with a staff who has been thoroughly trained in caring for patients in dire need of care. Situations often include cases in which patients just came out of surgery or circumstances in which a patient's health is quickly deteriorating. A lot of these patients are experiencing life-threatening conditions.

Want to Know More About the CCU Nursing Specialty?

Nurses in the CCU have specialized training and experience in caring for severe cases where the patient needs constant observation. Nurses who work within the CCU tend two have just a few patients, allowing them to focus more on their care. As a nurse in the CCU, you need to be on top of your skills. You must be able to work under intense pressure but remain relaxed. You must be keen on making good decisions quickly; there's no room for error. An ICU nurse usually cares for just a couple of patients due to their severe conditions. They are constantly charting their patients while dealing with much more equipment than a nurse who works on other units, such as medical-surgical.

Furthermore, nurses who work in ICU or CCU are usually responsible for providing all patient care. There is usually no "team nursing" model in these intensive care units. You have people being incubated, ventilated, and more than one IV line going simultaneously. Documenting the patient's conditions and relaying the information to the next nurse taking over for you must be clear and correct. This is vital to a patient's recovery. The following are some of the typical tasks of an ICU or CCU nurse:

  • Checking vital signs
  • Entering orders
  • Administering medications, including life-saving drips and calibrated dosages
  • Performing basic hygiene on patients
  • Turning and repositioning patients in bed
  • Monitoring patients pre and post-operatively
  • Communicating with doctors and allied staff members about the patient's health condition and updates
  • Coordinating care between patients, case managers, and other involved parties
  • Logging patients' health conditions
  • Diagnosis test
  • Overseeing LPNs and other nurses
  • Instructing the patient's plan of care

How To Get ICU Certification?

When you pass the NCLEX-RN, the national nurse exam, you seek opportunities to be trained or even certified in intensive care. If you want to work in an ICU unit, you need at least an associate's degree in nursing. To work in an ICU or CCU unit, you typically require two years of experience in intensive care nursing.

Is Working As An ICU Nurse Right for You?

Are you quick in decision-making? As an intensive care nurse, you're dealing with people whose lives are on the line. These patients are often scared and in pain, and their emotions are rampant—being a nurse in a position of this sort, you need to be compassionate and caring. Nurses in the ICU unit need to be critical thinkers able to react quickly and experienced enough to be accurate in their decision-making in treating patients.

Are ICUs and CCUs The Same Thing?

Sometimes CCU stands for critical care unit, making it the same as the ICU. A CCU, also called the cardiac care unit, specializes in caring for patients with heart problems. Both are set up for people who need continuous care. However, cardiac critical care units are typically separate entities known as cardiovascular intensive care units (CVICUs).

What is the Average ICU Nurse's Salary?

The salary average for an ICU nurse varies due to experience, education, and certifications. However, an ICU nurse can earn between $71,600 and $86,300. It is important to note that nurses who work PRN jobs often earn a higher salary because they do not require the benefits of staff and travel nurses.

Working in a critical care unit Isn't for everybody, but some people are equipped mentally to handle this kind of environment; these people are necessary and appreciated. With this job, you are saving lives, and the rewards are great. If you want to learn more about ICU and CCU, Click here.

Jeremy Booher
Blog published on:
August 16, 2022

Meet Jeremy, a contributing copywriter, editor, and publisher at Nursa who specializes in topics around licensing, clinician salaries, and per diem job locations.

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