Login
Copyright

Be a Critical Care Unit Nurse: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a critical care unit nurse. Research the education requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career as a critical care nurse. View article »

View 10 Popular Schools »

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

94% college-bound high school students
…said it was important to communicate with colleges during the search process. (Source: Noel-Levitz 2012 trend study)

Select a school or program

View More Schools
Show Me Schools
 Replay
  • 0:00 Should I Become a…
  • 0:36 Career Requirements
  • 1:11 Steps to Become a…

Find the perfect school

Video Transcript

Should I Become a Critical Care Nurse?

Critical care nurses provide direct nursing care for patients who are critically ill. This care is provided in hospital intensive care units (ICUs), specialized critical care units, emergency departments, and in emergency transport. Specialized critical care units can be for patients who need respiratory, surgical, cardiac, neurology, or neonatal care. These medical professionals often spend many hours standing and they might need to move or lift patients.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Associate's or bachelor's degree
Degree Field Nursing
Experience Employers typically prefer 1-2 years of nursing experience
Licensure and Certification All registered nurses must be licensed in the state in which they practice; certification in critical care nursing is available
Key Skills Expert nursing skills and the ability to use specialized medical equipment, such as IV infusion pumps, cardiac monitors, and mechanical ventilation devices
Salary $70,393 (median annual salary for intensive care nurses)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Payscale.com, American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Clinical Nursing
  • Critical Care Nursing
  • Direct-Entry Midwifery - LM, CPM
  • Licensed Vocational Nurse Training
  • Mental Health Nursing
  • Neonatal Nursing
  • Nurse Anesthetist
  • Nurse Assistant or Patient Care Assistant
  • Nurse Midwife
  • Nurse Practitioner or Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Nursing Administration
  • Nursing for Adults and Seniors
  • Nursing Science
  • Occupational Health Nursing
  • Operating Room and Surgical Nursing
  • Pediatric Nursing
  • Public Health Nurse or Community Nurse
  • Registered Nurse

Steps to Become a Critical Care Nurse

Let's take a look at the steps needed to become a critical care nurse.

Step 1: Obtain an Undergraduate Degree in Nursing

A prospective critical care nurse needs first to become a registered nurse (RN). This begins with completing either a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Associate of Science in Nursing, or nursing diploma program. Options for career advancement may be more limited for graduates of associate's degree or diploma programs. Each of these nursing programs includes coursework in anatomy, pharmacology, patient care techniques, critical care procedures, and pathophysiology. Student nurses also serve several supervised clinical rotations to obtain hands-on experience before graduation.

For higher chances of success, obtain advanced life support certifications. Many employers require that critical care nurses hold current certifications in Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS). Specialized units may require certification in advanced life support techniques relevant to the patient population being treated, such as infants.

Step 2: Obtain a State License as a Registered Nurse

All nurses are required to be licensed by the state in which they work. To do so, candidates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), which is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Additional requirements vary by state. Nurses who are licensed in one jurisdiction typically can apply for an RN license by endorsement in another state.

Step 3: Gain Nursing Experience

Entry-level registered nurses may be able to find employment as an RN in the critical care unit of a hospital or trauma center. However, some employers prefer job candidates with prior nursing experience. Critical care nurses often provide advanced or specialized care for the patients. This may involve administering intravenous medications, nutrition via feeding tubes, catheters, and wound care. They also monitor patients on ventilators and check vital signs on a regular basis.

Step 4: Move Your Career Ahead With Certification

Experienced critical care nurses can seek voluntary certification from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). This professional organization awards the adult, pediatric, and neonatal critical care nurse (CCRN) credentials. To qualify for the computer-based certification exam, applicants must hold a current RN license and have worked 1,750 hours providing direct bedside care for critically ill patients.

Success tip

Maintain certification and licensure. At the end of the 3-year certification cycle, CCRNs must apply for re-certification. Candidates are required to acquire a minimum of 100 Continuing Education Recognition Points (CERPs) and to have performed at least 432 hours of direct bedside critical nursing care. Alternatively, CCRNs can re-certify by taking the certification examination. The candidate also must have maintained his or her RN license. Requirements for maintaining RN licensure vary from state to state.

In review, an associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing is required, as well as obtaining a state license and gaining experience in the field, for critical care nurses.

Next: View Schools

What is your highest level of education?

Some College
Complete your degree or find the graduate program that's right for you.
High School Diploma
Explore schools that offer bachelor and associate degrees.
Still in High School
Earn your diploma of GED. Plan your undergraduate education.

Schools you may like:

Popular Schools

The listings below may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users.

    • MSN to DNP
    • MSN to DNP in Nurse Practitioner
    • MSN to DNP in Executive Nurse Leader
    • RN to MSN
    • RN to MSN Bridge
    • MSN in Nursing Leadership
    • RN to MSN in Nursing Leadership
    • RN to MSN Bridge in Nursing Leadership
    • MSN in Nurse Educator
    • RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

    What is your highest level of education?

  • What is your highest level of education completed?

    • Master of Health Administration in Health Systems Management
    • Master of Science in Health Informatics

    What is your highest level of education?

  • What is your highest level of education completed?

    • DUAL MBA-MSN
    • Master of Science in Nursing
    • Accelerated MBA Health Administration
    • MBA Health Administration
    • MPH in Health Management and Policy Focus
    • Nurse Executive Leader MSN

    What is your highest level of education?

    • MSHS in Health Care Quality
    • Graduate Certificate in Health Care Quality

    What is your highest level of education?

    • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Management
    • RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing

    What is your highest level of education completed?

    • Doctor of Nursing Practice
    • M.S. Nursing - Primary Care
    • M.S. Nursing - Associate to Master's - Nursing Administration
    • M.S. Nursing - Nursing Administration (Post-MBA)
    • M.S. Nursing and Master of Business Administration
    • Master of Business Administration - Health Care Administration
    • M.S. Nursing - Associate to Master's - Nursing Education
    • B.S. Nursing - Post Licensure (RN-BSN)
    • B.S. General Studies - Life Sciences
    • B.S. Healthcare Administration
    • A.S. General Studies - Life Sciences
    • Post-Master's Certificate - Primary Care
    • Post-Master's Certificate - Nursing Administration
    • Post-Master's Certificate - Nursing Education

    What is your highest level of education?

    • RN to BSN
    • AS in Medical Assisting

    What is your highest level of education?

    • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
    • Doctor of Nursing Practice with an Emphasis in Educational Leadership
    • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
    • MBA and MS in Nursing: Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems (dual degree)
    • MS in Nursing: Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems
    • M.S. in Nursing: Nursing Education
    • MBA: Health Systems Management
    • MS in Health Care Administration
    • MS in Nursing: Nursing Education
    • BS in Nursing (Registered Nurse - R.N. to BSN)
    • BS in Health Care Administration
    • BS in Health Sciences: Professional Development & Advanced Patient Care
    • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science

    What is your highest level of education?

Find your perfect school

What is your highest level of education?