Critical Care Nursing is that specialization within the field of nursing that deals specifically with how human beings respond to life-threatening health issues. Registered nurses specializing in critical care are responsible for delivering optimal care to a patients and families of those patients who are acutely or critically ill. Most importantly, these specialized nurses act as patient advocates by working with the patient (and/or possibly the patient’s surrogate) to make decisions that respect and support the basic values, rights, and beliefs of their patients who are critically ill.
The field of critical care nursing evolved out of the first intensive care units established in the 1950s to provide one-on-one care for the very ill. Over the last half decade, the methods used to care for such critically ill patients have become more and more complex as advancements have been made in both the fields of medicine and technology. Delivery systems have evolved during that same timeframe to provide for constant treatment and monitoring of patients. These advances in patient care over time have increased demands on nurses to possess more and more specialized knowledge and skills to care for such very sick and complex patients.
Critical Care Settings
Critical care nurses practice in a wide variety of settings – essentially, anywhere that critically ill patients can be found. They practice in settings where patient assessment is complex, where treatments are high risk, and where patients require constant monitoring and treatment. This includes settings such as intensive care units (ICUs), cardiac care units, pediatric ICUs, neonatal ICUs, emergency rooms, trauma units, recovery rooms, and more. Not only are they in high demand in hospital settings, but many also work in home health, outpatient surgery centers, flight units, managed care organizations, and nursing schools.
Critical Care Nursing Roles
Nurses who specialize in critical care practice in a variety of roles as well. In addition to being bedside clinicians, clinical nurse specialists, and nurse practitioners, many of them practice as nurse educators, nurse researchers, nurse managers, and more. Managed care continues to fuel the demand for critical care nurses as they are called upon more and more to provide care to critically ill patients.
Qualifications for Becoming a Critical Care Nurse
Becoming a critical care nurse requires education and training above and beyond that which is received in typical nursing diploma, Associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), or Bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) programs required to take and pass the national licensing exam to become a Registered Nurse (RN). While these programs may provide some exposure to critical care, the majority of education and training in the field of critical care is obtained through a nurse’s employer or by pursuing an advanced degree in nursing with a specialization in Critical Care Nursing such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree program. Nurses often pick a sub-specialty such as adult, pediatric, or neonatal critical care where they focus on treating a particular population of patients.
Certification in Critical Care
The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses offers certification programs in the field. Though certification is not required to practice in a specialty field such as critical care, many nurses choose to become certified because of a variety reasons.
For example, employers often look for such certifications as confirmation that the nurse has demonstrated a high level of knowledge and training in their specialty by successfully completing such certification examinations.
In some states, nursing boards require nurses to hold such national certifications in order to be licensed as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN). Also, for certain APRNs to be eligible for reimbursement from Medicare and other managed care insurance programs, they are often required to hold an advanced practice certification such as that of a Certified Critical-Care Registered Nurse (CCRN).
And to maintain their certifications, the renewal process requires nurses to meet continuing education and clinical practice requirements.