EP 159: Pros & Cons of Being an ICU Nurse
Being an ICU nurse is not for the weak. Nurses are witnesses to a patient’s most vulnerable time of their life. And for us nurses, it is a blessing to be a part of that. Working as an ICU nurse taught us many things workwise and experiencing the negative and positive impacts of being one.
In this episode, we will talk about the pros and cons of being an ICU nurse, share our experiences and inspire those interested in becoming one in the future.
Pros & Cons of Being an ICU nurse
Is it worth being an Intensive care unit (ICU) nurse? As an ICU nurse, you will be working with patients experiencing life-threatening health problems, and now, the pandemic. The complexity of care in the ICU requires critical thinking as the central core of all responsibilities.
What inspired us to become ICU nurses?
How we became ICU nurses started at the hospital when we were still new nurses ourselves. In Matt’s case, becoming an ICU nurse was easy – he was inspired by an ICU nurse who showed him what’s it like to handle a situation, which left him with a good impression. Moments like this are rare because when you are a new grad nurse, you often get assigned to one area where you get to work for a year or so and not be able to explore other areas in nursing.
Being an ICU nurse is interesting because we get involved in the littlest thing with our patients. Every orifice, drop, whatever comes in or out – we know it all. It’s like doing science and history at work. We all get to see where our patient came from, their present condition, and working ways to help them be better in the future.
Nurses as Role Models
Imagine if Matt’s interaction with that ICU nurse was a negative one? Perhaps he wouldn’t even try exploring the ICU or being an ICU nurse. As nurses, we have to be a good example to people because our actions can either impress or distress others who have the potential to be good nurses someday. That said, here are the pros and cons of being an intensive care unit nurse:
Pros of Being an ICU Nurse
- Collaboration with other healthcare professionals to help the patient as a team – you get to see the whole picture of the situation.
- Easy access to the medical team. Intensivists vs hospitalists.
- Larger autonomy and scope of practice – nurses can practice using their critical thinking skills to help the patients.
- Great career progression to reach CCRN or even management.
- 2:1 and 1:1 patient ratios.
- Learning curve – learning to prioritize/critical thinking.
Cons of Being an ICU Nurse
- We get the worst of the worst like ETOH withdrawals – you want to help but sometimes the situation can be stressful because of unruly patients.
- Crashing patients a lot of drip management – is the opposite of the “worst of the worst”. Your patient keeps crashing no matter how much you try to help them.
- High stress – we don’t respond stressed out all the time but the tasks/care we give is a constant level of stress. It can be exhausting by the end of the day.
- Difficult dealing with family, decision making & family drama. – an emotional strain that can put you in a tough spot. You are the response team.
- Physical labor – this is not just ICU, we are in charge of full care usually because patients in our unit don’t participate in our care. There’s a possibility of workplace injury.
- Nasty wounds and messy patients – you get to clean up the body fluids that come out of your patients like sputum, drool, urine, feces, etc. If you are easily squeamish, this is not the place for you.
- Loss of patient care – higher mortality in the ICU. dealing with the hardships. How to cope.
- No extra pay – some healthcare facilities don’t pay ICU nurses much given all the responsibilities that they have.
How did C19 affect the ICU as far as workload?
Usually, an intensive care unit is limited only to two patients, but hospitals have been flooded with critical patients since the pandemic broke out. More patients are sent to the ICU nowadays, and nurses’ role has tripled over time. From monitoring patients to dealing with the loss, and helping families, it’s a tough job, to be honest.
The idea that nurses are navigating new territories adds to the emotional stress of your work, more critically ill patients, dying patients, and dealing with the emotions of the families who just lost a loved one. It is a stressful time to be an ICU nurse. But then again, it is something worth taking because of how rewarding our job is.
How to know if ICU Nursing is right for you?
Being an ICU nurse is not for everyone. It’s a tough job, to be honest. But as you grow with the job, your perspective in life changes too. There’s no specific personality or knowledge to being an ICU nurse. You don’t need to be perfect for the job because you will never know if it is the right job for you unless you give it a try.
As you go, you learn with experience. We all learned from experience in nursing school and now in real life. Nursing school was hard, but you made it. The same goes with ICU nursing, it may be hard from the beginning, but that doesn’t mean it won’t help you grow in your career.
Of course, you have an option to give it a try and see where it goes. As a nurse, there are so many fields of nursing that you can explore. Maybe ICU nursing is your thing, maybe not. And that’s fine too. The important thing is that you know where your heart is in this profession, so you can excel at the work you have chosen.
There are so many ways being a nurse can take you. It would be best if you didn’t waste your time doing something you are not happy with. Our time as ICU nurses have been a real blessing. It taught us wisdom and humbled us in many ways. We wouldn’t want to change that.
Of course, we enjoy being travel nurses, but the lessons we have learned as ICU nurses will always have a special place in our lives. Hopefully, you can also find that as you embrace being an ICU nurse in the future.
To watch the full Episode 159, click here for more and other Cup of Nurses episodes:
02:36 Episode Introduction
07:06 Pro: Health Care Team Collaboration
10:38 Pro: Access to other medical teams
12:40 Pro: Larger autonomy and scope of practice
15:03 Pro: Great career progression
15:52 Pro: Patient ratio
18:36 Pro: More on the critical task
19:59 Con: ETOH or unruly patients
21:20 Con: Crashing patients
23:51 Con: High stress
27:12 Con: Physical Labor
30:59 Con: Dealing with nasty wounds, blood, sputum, etc.
32:16 Con: Compensation
34:16 ICU is for you if…
36:08 Wrapping up the episode