ICU nursing

EP 94: Why We Work in the ICU

In this episode, we will discuss why we work in the ICU. Precisely 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 collaborate in these units to achieve 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 much 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 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 two patients sounds like a walk in the park, but these patients are very critical, with a change in condition within seconds. Even 1-1 patient is really sick, usually requiring CRRT, ECMO, IABP, and special catheters.  

Usually pays more/is more marketable.

Some facilities offer more pay to their ICU nurses or specialized units. These units care for a particular 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 and 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 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 in 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 when 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, drawing 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

Want to work as an ICU nurse? Watch the full episode here 👇👇👇


00:00 – Intro
00:45 – Topic intro
01:45 – Why the ICU is special
04:00 – What is in the ICU
09:00 – We know our patient from head to toe
10:15 – Matt’s time in MedSurg
12:43 – Being an ICU nurse is a specialty
14:23 – ICU uses your critical thinking skills
16:17 – Being able to talk to your patients is a blessing
18:05 – We like to be there for people
20:43 – Control of a patient’s life
21:20 – The power nurses hold
22:42 – The worst feeling for an ICU nurse
27:15 – Good Qualities of an ICU nurse
27:35 – Planning
28:49 – Communication skills
32:25 – Critical Thinking skills
35:15 – Research
37:18 – Physical stamina
38:13 – Problem-solving skills
40:24 – Organization skills
43:40 – Wrapping up
44:05 – End of show

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