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Intensive care, or critical care, takes nursing to a new level because these professionals deal with high-risk patients and the emotional strain that comes with them. An ICU nurse often must manage more than just medical care. Families and patients facing end-of-life decisions are a normal part of the job.
Before asking how to become an ICU nurse, consider whether you are ready to take on the stress of caring for patients that are unstable and in need to special attention. Once you make the decision to specialize in this rewarding field, investigate the educational requirements necessary to get you there.
Smaller facilities may accept RNs with an associate degree in nursing, but higher degrees such as a bachelor or masters would open up more opportunities. In order to work in this advanced field, additional certifications are required, such as:
Advanced Cardiac Life Support
Basic Life Support
Pediatric Advanced Life Support
Trauma Nursing Certified
When asking how to become an ICU nurse, consider taking a training program designed for this specialty. A comprehensive ICU training program will cover all of these topics and provide the proper certifications.
The American Association of Critical Care Nurses, AACN, offers certification for nurses looking to advance to a career in ICU. Certification indicates to the public those nurses who possess a distinct and clearly defined body of knowledge called acute/critical care nursing. Some states may require it for employment.
To qualify for certification with the AACN, you must have unencumbered licensure as an RN or APRN in the U.S. This means a license is not subject to formal discipline or limited in any way.
The AACN requires nurses to meet one of two clinical practice requirements, as well. The first option is to work as an RN or APRN for 1,750 hours in direct bedside care of acutely ill/critically ill patients within the previous two years. Half of those hours must be in the year preceding the test application.
The second option is to practice as an RN or APRN for at least five years with a minimum of 2,000 hours in acute patient care. This must include at least 144 hours in the year prior to applying for certification.
You only need to meet one of those standards. The clinical hours must match the exam you are applying for, as well. For example, if you want to work in neonatal care, then your clinical hours must reflect that specialty. Clinical hours do not include time shadowing another nurse during orientation. To renew your certification, you must meet the continuing education and clinical experience standards.
As part of your certification to work in ICU, you must sit for the CCRN exam given by the AACN. The exam consists of 150 multiple-choice questions. There are three available and they are age-specific:
States establish the rules regarding nursing employment, so they may require additional certifications and educational standards.
There are additional certifications available for you to consider in this field. CCRN is the basic certification and it allows you to work with acutely ill/critically ill adult, pediatric or neonatal patients. In addition, you can apply for:
CCRN-E – This is for nurses working in a tele-ICU setting helping to monitor patients from a remote setting
CCRN-K – For nurses who work with acutely ill/critically ill patients in a non-bedside private practice
PCCN – Progressive care nurses
CNML – Nurse Managers
CMC – Cardiac patients
CSC – Cardiac patients in recovery after surgery
There are also a number of advanced practice certifications to consider.
Making the decision to get the additional training necessary to work with critical care patients means more job opportunities and better pay whether you work as a travel nurse or accept permanent employment.