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If you want to work closely with patients who truly need you, you might be interested in becoming a critical care nurse. These nurses work with patients who need close monitoring due to serious or complex issues.

Critical Care Nurse

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Path to Becoming a Critical Care Nurse

To become a critical care nurse, you must first become a registered nurse (RN), which means you will need either an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN).  In addition to earning a degree, you will need to pass the NCLEX-RN. An ADN might be the minimal education requirement you need to meet, but many hospitals, which is where critical care nurses work, want candidates to have at least a BSN degree to work as a RN. Also, students with a BSN pass the NCLEZX-RN more often than those with just an ADN. One last reason to consider a BSN instead of an ADN is the availability of programs. According to U.S. News & World Report, there are more graduate programs available for nurses who already have a BSN degree than those for students with an ADN.

Critical care nurses that want to become a clinical nurse specialist (CNS) Critical Care Nurses will need to consider a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. However, some students may want to pursue a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) instead because the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is proposing that APRNs be required to attain a doctorate degree rather than a master’s degree. This movement has even led some schools to begin transitioning their MSN programs into DNP programs.

Once you have completed your education and gotten a license, you will want to gain experience to improve your chances of becoming a critical care nurse. When doing rotations, you should strive to get placed in intensive care units to help build up your experience in that type of environment. Most students will be gaining their experience in acute care, which critical care nurses do deal with as well. During rotations, you will learn how to evaluate patients, administer their medication, and read their vitals, which will help you succeed in your future career as a critical care nurse.

An MSN degree can lead to becoming a CNS with a median salary of $85,723 and the potential to earn $116,921, according to PayScale.

Critical Care Nurse Certifications

The American Heart Association offers two different certifications that can help boost your resume. One certification is Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) which is indented to help improve the care one gives to seriously ill or injured children. The PALS certification primarily focuses on helping young patients with respiratory issues.

The other American Heart Association certification that critical care nurses should consider is the Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) credential. Having this training will help future critical care nurses know what to do in a cardiovascular emergency and help prepare them for working in intensive care and critical care units.

The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) also has its own certification, the CCRN. There are two options to meet the requirements for the CCRN. The two-year option requires you to have practiced as an RN or advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) for 1,750 hours of direct care of acutely or critically ill adult patients, with 875 of those hours being accrued in the most recent year. The five-year option is a little more relaxed and only needs you to have practiced as an RN or APRN for at least 2,000 hours in direct care of acutely or critically ill patients. Out of those 2,000 hours, only 144 must have been accrued in the most recent year. The CCRN certification proves to potential employers that you are up-to-date with the skills needed for critical care nursing.

The AACN also offers a special certification for those that want to work with children. The requirements for attaining the CCRN (Pediatric) certification are similar to that of the CCRN, but candidates must have experience providing direct care to pediatric patients.

The Role of a Critical Care Nurse

Critical care nurses help patients that are acutely and critically ill. While critical care nurses typically work in hospitals, there are a variety of work settings open to them. Some critical care nurses might find their calling in burn centers, while others might work in emergency rooms. This is a very demanding job, since patients need constant monitoring. The work of a critical care nurse requires a lot of hours on your feet as well as the physically demanding task of moving and lifting patients.

Critical care nurses have to be able connect with their patients, but they also have to be able to detach themselves to some degree. The reason for this contradictory requirement is that, unfortunately, not all critically ill or injured patients make it. Therefore, critical care nurses see death on a more regular basis than nurses in other fields do, and they must be emotionally resilient.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that registered nurses enjoy a median salary of $70,000.