Critical care nursing has developed as a specialized form of nursing to care for patients who are in potentially life-threatening situations. These types of nurses are specially trained to provide bedside care for patients while recognizing patient changes in condition. Critical care nursing began to develop as a specialty in the 1950s with the advent of the first intensive care units. These areas recognized the need for nurses who could provide focused and detailed care in potentially stressful situations.
Critical care nurses work in many different types of settings, most frequently within hospitals. Some areas include intensive care units, emergency rooms, telemetry units, and post-operative surgical units. Critical care nurses work with patients at bedside, helping with activities of daily living, administering medications, assisting with procedures, and reporting results of tests to physicians.
Some critical care nurses become certified in their specific area, particularly if their field of care is focused on certain patient populations. Examples include certification in neonatal advanced life support for neonatal intensive care nurses and certification in pediatric advanced life support for those who work in pediatric intensive care.
Most nursing schools that provide training for registered nurses devote part of the program to teaching aspects of critical care nursing. Students may practice in the clinical setting, working alongside critical care nurses to sharpen their skills in critical thinking, or they may practice in community settings, such as riding along in an ambulance with emergency personnel. After graduation and licensure, you may decide that you would enjoy critical care nursing, but some hospitals require new nursing graduates to spend some time working to hone their nursing skills before starting in critical care. Other institutions may hire new nurses and provide the initial training; the policies vary by establishment.
Some critical care nurses receive advanced training by obtaining a graduate degree to further practice in their fields. A master’s degree in nursing may help a nurse move into the role of a clinical nurse specialist, working specifically in the intensive care areas. Some nurses become nurse practitioners and work in critical care, prescribing medications and treatments and supervising the work of other nurses.
Because of advances in technology, the critical care environment is highly specialized, with new treatments and practices continuing to evolve. Critical care nursing remains in demand as a profession that assists patients through emergent situations and work to save lives.