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Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU) Ultimate Guide

Are you thinking about a career in cardiovascular intensive care unit nursing? That’s excellent news! Coronary heart disease is the most common kind of cardiovascular disease in adults, and around 695,000 people die from heart disease each year. By becoming a cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU) nurse, you can be confident that you will work for a good cause.

heart attack
Coronary heart disease is the most common kind of cardiovascular disease in adults.

Table of Contents

A CVICU nurse works in a fast-paced and demanding environment, providing specialized care to patients with heart conditions, those recovering from cardiovascular surgery, and trauma patients. A CVICU nurse can also help educate and encourage patients to live healthy lifestyles that support cardiovascular health. 

Working as a CVICU nurse requires compassion, the ability to multi-task, and strong critical thinking skills. It’s an ideal career for registered nurses (RNs) looking for a challenging yet rewarding role in nursing. Keep reading to discover the benefits of becoming a CVICU nurse and what makes this profession unique.

Nurse getting pulse
Monitoring vital signs Is important CVICU Nurse responsibility.

What Does CVICU Stand For in Medical Terms?

The acronym or medical abbreviation for the cardiovascular intensive care unit is CVICU. This unit may be used for post-operative care or to treat patients with severe heart or vascular disorders, and it specializes in treating patients with cardiothoracic conditions and related illnesses. 

What Is a CVICU Nurse and What Do They Do?

Working as a CVICU nurse involves caring for patients in the cardiovascular intensive care unit. From monitoring and treating patients with complex cardiovascular conditions to administering medications and managing specialized medical equipment, the work of a CVICU nurse is invaluable to a patient’s treatment and recovery. Many CVICU nurses have responsibilities similar to those of any other registered nurse. These responsibilities may include assessing patients, administering medications, monitoring vital signs, and providing patient education and support. However, a CVICU nurse may need to perform more specific skills such as surgical site preparation for vascular surgeries, post-operative care, and monitoring a patient’s cardiac status. Therefore, these nurses are well-equipped to handle patients with various cardiovascular diseases. 

Nurses working in the cardiovascular intensive care unit commonly provide post-cardiac surgery care and treat the following conditions:

  • Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)
  • Cardiac Arrhythmias
  • Valvular Heart Disease
  • Cardiogenic Shock

The following is a more detailed description of the typical responsibilities of a CVICU nurse: 

  • Monitoring patients: A cardiovascular intensive care unit nurse carefully monitors each patient’s vital signs and heart rhythms. In addition, a CVICU nurse evaluates a patient’s health and reports changes in the patient’s condition.
  • Administering medications: CVICU nurses are often responsible for administering medications. These medications can include intravenous medications to help manage pain, control blood pressure, and prevent infections.
  • Assisting with procedures: A CVICU nurse may assist and support doctors and other medical professionals by helping to insert pulmonary artery catheters, arterial lines, and central lines. They may also assist in managing different kinds of cardiac monitoring equipment.
  • Providing post-operative care: CVICU nurses may be responsible for caring for patients undergoing or who have come out of specific cardiac surgery procedures, such as coronary artery bypass grafting or valve replacement. They may be in charge of closely monitoring the patient’s recovery, helping to manage a patient’s pain, and ensuring proper wound care.
  • Educating patients and families: A CVICU nurse can help educate patients and their families about patients’ conditions. Upon discharge, a cardiovascular intensive care unit nurse also gives the patient instructions for taking medications and suitable steps to take for at-home after-care.
  • Collaborating with the healthcare team: CVICU nurses will likely collaborate closely with doctors, surgeons, respiratory therapists, and other medical specialists to create and carry out a thorough treatment plan for every patient admitted to the cardiovascular intensive care unit. 

What Technical Skills Does a CVICU Nurse Need? 

Cardiovascular intensive care unit nurses are like technical wizards. That’s because the complex nature of CVICU machinery requires nurses to understand the machines’ functionality and operation on a deep level. Plus, technical issues and emergencies are inevitable in CVICU nursing. Add that to constantly making critical decisions under pressure, and you can see why CVICU nurses need an impeccable ability to troubleshoot and respond to technical issues. 

Overall, nurses must have expert clinical and technical skills to provide patients with adequate care in the cardiovascular intensive care unit. The following are some standard requirements to work in the CVICU: 

  • Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) certification
  • Proficiency in cardiac monitoring and interpretation of ECGs
  • Ability to monitor oxygen saturation levels
  • Accuracy when performing stress test assessments
  • Management and troubleshooting skills to operate various types of medical equipment, such as ventilators and hemodynamic monitors 
  • Proficiency in IV insertion and management skills
  • Knowledge and skill set to perform chest tube insertions 
  • Experience and skill set for wound care management, including appropriate dressing changes, infection prevention, etc.

Apart from technical skills, sometimes referred to as “hard skills” in nursing, a CVICU nurse will need a range of “soft” skills or personality characteristics to fulfill this role. Let’s move on to that next.

What Does It Take to Work as a CVICU Nurse?

Cardiovascular nurse comforts patient
Working with criticall-ill patients and their families is another aspect of being a CVICU nurse.

Working as a CVICU nurse requires running highly technical machinery, performing specialized medical tasks, and making informed decisions for patients. To work as a CVICU nurse, one should possess a range of personality traits such as a strong sense of empathy and compassion, resilience, and the ability to handle high-stress situations. 

Working with criticall-ill patients and their families is another aspect of being a CVICU nurse. Therefore, maintaining composure under pressure is another prerequisite for working in this specialty. Thus, the commitment of a CVICU nurse extends beyond the specialized work done in a cardiovascular intensive care unit. Because CVICU nurses must support patients and family members while rushing around to help keep a patient alive, nurses in this unit must strive to be both compassionate and meticulous in their line of work. These nurses must also be emotionally prepared to provide end-of-life care. 

Although any RN can technically become a CVICU nurse, many nurses in this unit share the following characteristics and personality traits:

  • Assertive and intelligent 
  • Meticulous and detail-oriented
  • Analytical
  • Calm under pressure
  • Compassionate but thick-skinned
  • Quick to respond in emergencies
  • Resilient with a great sense of humor

What Is CVICU Nursing?

CVICU nursing is a specialty in which a registered nurse works in the cardiovascular intensive care unit. Nurses working in other hospital units may be eligible to transition to a cardiovascular intensive care unit when an opportunity arises. 

So, what does a typical day shift in the CVICU look like? Depending on a hospital’s policies, patient acuity, and staffing levels, each day will look slightly different for a CVICU nurse. However, here is a general idea of what a day shift as a nurse in the cardiovascular intensive care unit might entail: 

Start of Shift: Handover and Patient Assessments

A day shift in the CVICU may begin with a handover from the night shift nurses. A handover generally involves receiving a report on each patient’s condition and any changes or updates about a patient’s treatment plan. Typically, after the handover, a CVICU nurse will conduct a thorough assessment of each patient, which involves checking the patient’s level of consciousness, monitoring vital signs, evaluating the cardiovascular status, and ensuring all intravenous lines and devices function correctly. 

Mid Shift: Medication Administration and Monitoring

A CVICU nurse will continue to closely monitor vital signs, cardiac rhythms, and oxygen saturation and keep an eye on CVICU machinery and equipment throughout the day. Simultaneously, they will administer scheduled medications to a patient according to specific prescription orders. Anticoagulants and painkillers are among the medications CVICU nurses may give their patients. A CVICU nurse may also administer medications via central lines or other access points to administer the correct dosage each time.

Documentation and Collaboration with Healthcare Team Members

Accurate and timely documentation is a critical aspect of a CVICU nurse’s job to ensure continuity of care. Throughout a nurse’s shift, thorough patient documentation may cover the medications given, emergency procedures or interventions, and a patient’s response to different treatments. Working cooperatively with other medical specialists in the cardiovascular intensive care unit, such as psychologists, respiratory therapists, and physical therapists, is also an essential aspect of a CVICU nurse’s job. According to multiple studies, interprofessional healthcare collaboration is vital to providing safe and high-quality patient care in intensive care units like the CVICU. This collaboration involves discussing patient care plans, sharing updates on a patient’s condition, and using complementary therapies to improve patient outcomes. 

Shift Handover and Clocking Out

Towards the end of the day shift, a CVICU nurse will give a comprehensive handover to the incoming night shift nurses. A complete shift handoff includes updates on each patient’s condition, critical events or issues, and any changes in a patient’s treatment plan. A CVICU nurse may also communicate any pending tasks or follow-up treatments required to the next nurse on shift. 

What Is the Average CVICU Nurse Salary?

Nurses in the cardiovascular intensive care unit need to be adept at critical thinking, have lightning-fast reflexes (the capacity to act accurately under stress), and be able to explain complicated medical conditions and procedures to patients and their families. Because of their unique ability to operate in high-stress situations, CVICU nurses and other critical care nurses are in great demand nationwide. Fortunately, cardiovascular intensive care unit nurses are compensated well for their efforts. Our research indicates that the average yearly salary for a nurse in this unit ranges from $97,500 to $118,000. Experienced CVICU nurses may even be able to earn up to $143,000 annually. Compared to the average registered nurse salary of $89,010, a CVICU nurse salary can provide a much more lucrative pay scale for nurses. 

Furthermore, nurses can earn an even more competitive hourly rate while working per diem CVICU jobs. Nursa’s per diem healthcare staffing app connects hospitals and clinicians directly. Every day, facilities seek to fill shifts with reliable nurses and nursing assistants. After verifying your registered nurse license, you can look through the PRN shifts available in your area and apply for well-paying positions in your state or nationwide.

How Can I Become a CVICU Nurse? 

Cardiovascular nurse teaches patient
As a new CVICU nurse, you can seek help from colleagues, mentors, and other experienced nurses.

Becoming a cardiovascular intensive care unit nurse isn’t too tricky, but it certainly requires time, specialized training, experience, and, yes, a good amount of studying. Becoming a registered nurse is the first step toward becoming a CVICU nurse, so if you already have that license, you can skip a few steps. The following is a basic breakdown of the steps involved in becoming a CVICU nurse: 

Step One: Earn Your Degree from an Accredited Nursing Program

A nurse wishing to start a career in CVICU might want to consider earning their BSN. A BSN is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from a four-year accredited university. While RNs can also have associate degrees, having a BSN can sometimes entitle a nurse to more opportunities, supervisory positions, and—perhaps the tie-breaker—higher compensation. Additionally, some hospitals require a registered nurse to have a bachelor’s degree to work in specific units. The good news? You can opt for an accelerated BSN program if you already have your associate’s in nursing or a bachelor’s degree in another field. 

Step Two: Pass the NCLEX

Nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to practice in the United States. Don’t worry. We’ve got plenty of information on how to pass this exam quickly and confidently with our NCLEX study tips.

Step Three: Gain Experience in the Field 

Many registered nurses work in other areas and eventually focus on CVICU nursing. A nurse can obtain valuable experience by working in a medical-surgical unit, emergency room (ER), post-anesthesia care unit (PACU), or general intensive care unit (ICU). In these settings, nurses will gain experience providing care for patients with acute care needs. Moreover, a nurse may be able to advance into a CVICU career by obtaining additional certification and advanced training. 

Tips for New Nurses and Those Transferring to the CVICU

Starting in the CVICU can be intimidating for any nurse. While the CVICU is considered a challenging, fast-paced, high-stress environment, it can also be a rewarding place to work. With this in mind, here are a few pointers for getting started and feeling at ease in the cardiovascular intensive care unit: 

  • Know there will be a learning curve: Starting in a new specialty area, especially in a CVICU, comes with a learning curve. Feeling nervous on your first, second, or third day is normal—and maybe even weeks or months into being a CVICU nurse. Therefore, the best tip for learning while in a new nursing specialty is not to be afraid to ask questions—as many as you want. For this purpose, you can keep a notebook or phone readily available to take down any important notes or details during your shift. 
  • Develop skills in ECG interpretation: If there is one critical skill CVICU nurses should master, it’s ECG interpretation. In light of this, if you are considering transferring to the CVICU, practice and hone your ECG interpretation skills. Feeling confident in these skills can give you the boost you need to feel more confident when stepping onto the CVICU floor. 
  • Be extra vigilant in patient monitoring: A patient’s vital signs alert a CVICU nurse of any life-threatening status changes in a patient’s condition. As a result, a nurse in this unit will need to monitor all intravenous lines, machine equipment, and settings closely and frequently. If you notice something is off, don’t hesitate to communicate immediately with a nurse colleague or physician in the same unit. 
  • Ask for support: Research indicates that working in the CVICU, especially with end-of-life situations, can be difficult for nurses, regardless of experience level. As a result, a qualitative study suggests that support networks may be helpful when dealing with end-of-life care. As a new CVICU nurse, you can seek help from colleagues, mentors, and other experienced nurses. You can also participate in debriefings, attend seminars, or download CVICU-related applications to your phone. In either case, seeking assistance can help you manage stress and provide quality patient care while working in the cardiovascular intensive care unit. 

CVICU Nursing: Heart and Perseverance Meet to Save Lives

While leaving the cardiovascular intensive care unit may be the first step toward a patient’s long recovery, a CVICU nurse may tell you nothing beats seeing a patient take that first step. After all, these nurses often play a vital role in getting patients out of life-or-death situations. So, although working in the cardiovascular intensive care unit can be challenging, the satisfaction from positively impacting a patient’s life is unmatched. The CVICU nursing specialty also provides a competitive wage that recognizes and rewards the effort and commitment that nurses put forth in their work. 

If you are considering pursuing a career in CVICU nursing, now is the time. You can take the first step today toward changing patients’ lives in a rewarding career as a CVICU nurse. If you are already a registered nurse, you can gain valuable experience by picking up per diem hospital shifts through Nursa today.

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