In this episode, we’re going to talk about why we work in the ICU. Specifically why we prefer ICU and why nurses like working in this department. The main reasons are; patient ratios, making us more marketable, more critical thinking, and being there for the patient in their most vulnerable point. We’ll also touch base on some good qualities of ICU nurses. 

Why Do We Work in the ICU?

Every year, intensive care units (ICUs) in the United States admit over 5.7 million patients. The ICU is a unit reserved for some of the most vulnerable patients, those who are critically ill and need close supervision in case their condition rapidly takes a turn for the worse.

Some ICUs specialize in certain areas such as pediatric, cardiac, or trauma, but many serve a general purpose. Occupational, respiratory, and physical therapists, dieticians, doctors, and nurses all collaborate in these units in pursuit of successful patient recovery.

ICU patients are often intubated, ventilated, and have multiple IV drips at a time. They must know the ins and outs of a lot more equipment than nurses who practice in a lower-stakes environment. They must also chart a lot more to keep up with intensive monitoring, assessments, and equipment. 

Two Patients Per Nurse is the Main Reason Why We Work in the ICU

Critical care nurses monitor their patients 24/7. Their patients need a high level of constant care, so there should always be a nurse to watch over patients. As such, ICU nurses often only work with one to two patients at any given time.

Having 2 patients sounds like a walk in the park but these patients are very critical with a change in condition within seconds. There are even 1-1 patients that are really sick usually requiring CRRT, ECMO, IABP, and special catheters.  

Usually pays more/ more marketable

Some facilities offer more pay to their ICU nurses or specialized units. This is because these units tend to take care of a certain population and often require more critical thinking and hands-on work. 

ICU nurses tend to be more marketable because ICU is the highest tier in a hospital setting. ICU nurses can float to other parts of the hospital like med-Surg, tele, stepdown, etc. It’s expected that you should know more during a critical patient situation than other nurses. 

More thinking and fixing, less touchy-feely

A lot happens in the ICU. The majority of our patients are intubated sedated. What that means is they can’t talk. It does have its positives and negatives. When you have an intubated and sedated patient they run on your clock, patient care-wise.

You do your hourly rounding and plan out when you’re going to do what task. There isn’t the time or opportunity for the patient to refuse, no playing cat and mouse with their bath or dinner. You have more control.

There is a lot of emotion in the ICU just not the touchy-feely stuff you commonly find on other units. A lot of the emotion comes from being the middle man; patient to family, patient to MD. Another part is during death or a crashing patient. Unfortunately, the ICU sees a lot of death and disgruntled family dynamics. 

Being there for people in their worst situation

There’s something about the ICU patients being at their most vulnerable and at the brink of death that draws nurses to it. It is also one of the reasons why we work in the ICU department. There are 2 options for a patient in the ICU, death or transfer. Our role in the ICU is to stabilize, treat, and repeat.

There are days in the ICU where every patient looks like they are fighting a losing battle with death and as hard as those are we are with that patient through it all. Even though we can’t always talk to our patients the energy is in the rooms and that draws people. 

The worst situations bring out the best in us, which doesn’t only apply to living outside the scrubs but also to ICU nursing. As crazy as it sounds critically ill patients stimulate our minds and are a learning opportunity. 

Good Qualities of an ICU nurse

  • Planning
  • Communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Research
  • Physical abilities
  • Problem-solving
  • Organization
  • Time management
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