Intensive care unit (ICU) nurses are specialized health care personnel who provide care to patients in a difficult medical situation. They may help intubate patients, administer medication, direct wound care, manage tracheostomies (including proper ventilation), and much more. They monitor patients regularly and on specific schedules for fast-moving conditions such as skin integrity and basic needs. So if you like a challenging job role with a strong desire to support people with life-threatening diseases or injuries, the intensive care unit (ICU) nursing path is excellent for you. If you’re looking to update your resume or create a new one for this job, we’ve created an excellent guide to help you.
Let’s begin by looking at the three main resume formats to present your credentials.
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Job Duties of an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Nurse
As an intensive care unit nurse, you work in the hospital’s medical team, attending to critical patients. Your significant duties entail assisting physicians, treating patients, monitoring life-supporting equipment, administering intravenous fluids (hypotonic, isotonic and hypertonic), providing medication, and sometimes assisting inpatient recovery. They should also be mentally, physically and emotionally healthy to work, and communicate well with seriously ill patients and their often worried loved ones.
Below are the primary duties of an ICU nurse:
Accurately managing detailed reports and records of ICU patients to assist doctors with their care.
Monitoring a patient’s fluid intake to determine fluid-related emerging problems such as electrolyte imbalance.
Assisting physicians with specific health-related procedures such as an endoscopy, a biopsy, intubations and bronchoscopies.
Recognizing emergency conditions in patients and responding with proper equipment, medication or other required tools.
Delivering consistent updates to patients, their primary and specialist doctors, and their family members.
Documenting patients’ medical conditions, treatment plans, possible outcomes, and any recovery plans.
Evaluating vital signs, including patient heart rate, respiratory rate and body temperature.
Identifying the nutritional status of patients.
Making, implementing, and adjusting efficient care plans.
Preparing essential medical personal documents before moving a patient.
Ensuring that ventilators, monitors, and other life-support equipment are working correctly to meet sudden emergency requirements.
Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Nurse Median Salaries
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an intensive care unit nurse’s median annual salary is $73,300 as of May 2019. Salary changes based on the experience of the ICU nurses. ICU nurses’ pay is expected to rise in the coming years.
Top Skills for Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Nurses
An intensive care unit nurse is a job for a person who craves responsibility, efficiency, and can work under intense, often life-altering conditions. You have to know that a single mistake in a procedure may endanger the life of the patient. Hence, your quick attention to their requirements is paramount. You also need intense focus, stamina, and concrete educational foundations in nursing and general health care to monitor patient health.
Here are some essential skills required:
- Triaging expertise: Triaging skills help nurses quickly determine the priority of patients’ treatment based on their severity. Sometimes, this requires immediate resuscitation, assigning patients to designated health areas, or choosing the likelihood of recovery based on the hospital or emergency room’s resources, including doctor availability. To ensure the right triaging process, intensive care unit nurses should regularly monitor patients’ health, medication requirements, and expected shifts to different medical areas. They also need to learn the types of triaging systems available, including hospital codes for patient severity.
- Adept in First Aid and CPR techniques: All medical staff should know First Aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but ICU nurses are experts. During emergency shifts, ICU nurses are often the first people who deal with patients and must take immediate and accurate actions to increase a patient’s chances of survival. ICU nurses have to instantly determine a severe cardiac arrest condition, for example, and act accordingly to avoid long-term complications such as brain damage. In-depth knowledge of advanced cardiac life support procedures could be beneficial for nurses in many other life-threatening cases.
Regarding First Aid, knowing whether you need to use the Heimlich maneuver to aid with a choking situation or what type of antibiotic ointment or antiseptic you need to use to clean wounds and prevent infections is also critical. The right First Aid can hasten recovery processes while the wrong one could lengthen it.
To develop both abilities, you can undergo training in specific areas through online courses such as CPR training and First Aid training and also work under expert health care personnel.
- Practice with catheters: In case of emergencies, patients sometimes have to use catheters in case of medical conditions such as urinary incontinence and urinary retention as well as part of other therapeutic procedures. ICU nurses should be well-versed in their insertion to avoid the risk of infections or risk worsening medical conditions. To develop this skill, you can work under professional doctors or take catheterization training from professional institutions. You will learn about the different types of catheters and how to insert and care for them (like through the suprapubic procedure), venepuncture theory, and bladder and bowel assessment.
- Emotional intelligence: Nurses should be emotionally stable to work under stressful conditions. Remember, you need to communicate effectively to relieve stress other people are experiencing who face unimaginably grim circumstances. Having emotional intelligence enhances patient-centered care, their level of satisfaction, and professional-patient relationships.
- Infection control procedures: ICU patients suffer from serious medical emergencies, and being in a sterile environment is critical to avoid worsening their condition through infections. Nurses can train to learn about the different types of infections, like nosocomial and central line-associated bloodstream infections, and help prevent them by regularly auditing the prevention care team’s performance, writing proper care protocols, and sanitizing areas regularly.
- Astute patient observation skills: Observation is a basic task to gain information from a patient to determine health deterioration signs. ICU nurses can gain these patient observation skills during nursing education where they can learn to apply them to patients. Nurses also monitor patients through cardiac arrest technology, like telemetry, which interprets patient EKG rhythms, vital signs and oxygen levels.
- Technical tool usage for body health, including neurology: Unlike most other nursing jobs, ICU nurses also have their own set of life-saving technical responsibilities, including providing ventilatory support, monitoring neurological status, and administering medication. Neurological assessment tools used include the Glasgow Coma Scale, the National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale and the Four Score. The types of neurological assessments they make with those tools, for example, include sensory exams, reflex tests, motor function and balance checks, and possible nerve damage.
- Decisiveness: ICU Nurses make critical decisions every day. You should have the decisiveness to make informative decisions regarding the treatment of the patient in an emergency. You should also be able to do this alongside doctors during medical procedures, including knowing how to operate life-saving machines.
Educational Requirements for Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Nurses
Intensive care unit nurse jobs require specialized knowledge, skills and experience. These are the education levels you should consider.
DegreeNurses need at least a bachelor of science, preferably with a nursing focus, (a BSN), and at least two years of experience as a nurse to be eligible to apply for a job in the ICU. Often, people with RN degrees and related experience also have to gain a master’s or a higher-level degree to continue to rise up the ladder and gain senior nursing roles. Those with higher-level degrees can become clinical nurse specialists.
While studying to be a nurse in bachelor programs, students learn theoretical and evidence-based nursing practices, and develop problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. Some of the nursing-specific knowledge courses are in anatomy, nutrition, public health, microbiology and physiology. The best and most-attractive undergraduate education nursing programs are four-year options with full industry accreditation. These programs can be found at Duke University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the University of Pennsylvania, and a few more.
You can also pursue an associate degree in nursing (ADN) from a program authorized by your state’s nursing board. People who get degrees this way are called Acute Care Nursing Practitioners (ACNP).
New York University, Vanderbilt University, Winona State University, Loyola University Chicago, and Grand Canyon University all offer quality degree nursing programs.
LicensureNo matter which specialty area of nursing you choose, you can become a registered nurse by taking the NCLEX Exam. The NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination) is the top license exam taken by registered nurses, including ICU nurses, in the United States since 1994. The National Council of State Board of Nursing (NCSBN) administers the test. The exam object is to check whether a candidate is fit to practice at an entry-level nursing job or not. After completing this exam, nurses can practice under registered nurses working in the ICU.
A candidate who has completed either their ADN or BSN nursing degrees is eligible for the NCLEX exam. In some states, it is necessary to get your license renewed every two or three years but won’t be required to retake NCLEX.
CertificationsTo gain an in-depth understanding of nursing principles, it is necessary to obtain ICU Nurse or Critical Care Nurse certifications. These certifications demonstrate your leadership and prepare you properly during your nursing career. Here is an array of companies, organizations and associations offering certification in nursing:
- Member associations:The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) offers a Certified Critical Care Nurse Certification (CCRN) that establishes a baseline of knowledge for critically ill or injured patients. It offers various specialty certifications such as a certificate in pediatric critical care orientation essentials, Cardiac Surgery, acutely/critically ill adult patient direct care, neonatal care, and various other specializations. Course eligibility is dependent on educational qualifications and licensure.
- For-profit educational companies:There are many companies like Udemy that offer various courses in nursing and can teach you clinical tools, assist you in preparation for licensure exams, and develop knowledge about nursing management and leadership. Another company that offers these is Alison, which has various nursing courses for examining patients with health issues related to cardiovascular, physical examination, dietary matters, surgical care and respiratory problems.
- Universities and colleges:Various universities and colleges such as New York University, Duke University and the University of Arizona offer nursing-specific certifications. The University of Arizona, for example, has nurse practitioner certificates in four specialties courses designed for individuals with NCLEX licensure working in a clinical environment.
Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Nurse Resume-Writing Tips
There are different ways to write the resume of an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse. Usually, though, the choice is based on their relevant experience and skills. You should follow the tips below to make your resume more appealing to potential employers.
- Offer comprehensive insight into your previous roles: Make sure you have included all the recruiter’s relevant experience. It is best to elaborate on your experience by using bullet points — it’s fast and to the point. Also, use clear, non-adorning language or lengthy sentences. Just state what you’ve done, using examples, and how it affected your patients.
For example, don’t only write that you have two years of experience working as an ICU nurse in the hospital. Instead, note that you have two years of experience working in a cardiac-care hospital and successfully treated an approximate number of patients suffering from cardiac arrest.
- Specify individual accomplishments: Don’t use buzzwords. Simply state your actions with relevant facts and numbers. It grabs an employer’s attention and shows them your dedication to the facts.
Hence, don’t merely say you work as an ICU nurse in the COVID-19 ward of the hospital. Instead, mention the local council has awarded you for successfully treating, say, 10 pregnant women suffering from coronavirus.
- Insert relevant skills: Include all relevant skills asked for by an employer. It helps to highlight your strengths and amplifies your possibility of getting the job. Add details in one or two sentences.
For instance, don’t merely say you’re good at decision-making. Instead, say that you make informative decisions with reasonable care in any urgent situation because it reduces risk and increases patient recovery rates.
- Add certificates: As an ICU nurse, you need to show you’re highly capable of looking after critical patients. To display your ability, add any certification or course that can be auxiliary to your job as an ICU nurse.
For example, add your online dietitian certification course. It helps highlight your ability to provide clinical nutrition to patients.
What is the difference between ICU and ER Nurses?
Nurses working in the emergency room handle all patient types, whether they are suffering from bird flu to severe trauma, anxiety, heart attacks or gunshots. They should be able to recognize the symptoms of patients and must work with physicians to stabilize patients.
ICU nurses, in particular, treat patients that require a high level of care for an extended period of time. These nurses are typically very structured and organized and take care of the most minute details, ranging from monitoring patients to ensuring their precise doctor prescriptions.
What can I expect from my job as an ICU nurse in the future?
An ICU nurse is a good career option for those who love challenges and are ready to work in stressful, often visually graphic, physically demanding, and psychologically emotional situations. As an ICU nurse, you need to be empathetic and help treat patients struggling to recover from critical illnesses or injuries.