To become a registered nurse (RN), it is necessary to complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or associate's degree in nursing (ADN) from an accredited nursing program. BSN programs usually last for four years, while ADN programs usually last for two or three years. Upon graduation, these prospective nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) before getting a job as a critical care nurse. Some employers also prefer to hire critical care nurses who hold specialized certifications in the field.
For work as an advanced practice critical care nurse, individuals need a Master of Science in Critical Care/Trauma Nursing. Applicants need to be licensed RNs with previous clinical nursing experience. Graduates of master's programs are qualified for licensure or certification as clinical nurse specialists or nurse practitioners with a specialty in critical care nursing. In addition, voluntary certifications can be earned by critical care and ICU nurses who successfully pass specialized examinations.
Associate's Degree in Nursing
Associate's degree programs for aspiring critical care nurses prepare students for licensure through a combination of lecture- and laboratory-based biomedical coursework. They also include a supervised clinical experience. Prior to graduation, students must also fulfill general education requirements. Common courses in these programs include:
Bachelor of Science in Nursing
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs include the same fundamental coursework as ADN programs, but because they last longer, students have the opportunity to take more advanced courses in a broader range of relevant topics, such as public health, nursing research and management. While some four-year BSN programs are intended for individuals who have only a high school diploma or GED, others are intended for licensed RNs who have completed an ADN program and want to earn a bachelor's degree. Advanced course in BSN programs can cover topics such as:
- Nursing care of older adults
- Nursing management of adults with acute health problems
- Nursing care of clients with mental health problems
- Community health nursing
- Advanced clinical problem solving
Master of Science in Critical Care/Trauma Nursing
All students interested in enrolling in a master's degree program in nursing with a focus on critical care nursing should have already passed the NCLEX-RN and should have clinical nursing experience. Many schools also require that incoming students demonstrate their aptitude with computers and nursing technology before they begin core graduate-level courses.
Students enrolled in an M.S.N. degree program in critical care and trauma nursing learn how to provide patient assessment to critically injured or ill individuals and offer advanced practice acute care. They also learn to promote health education and manage a team of nurses and medical personnel.
Graduate degree programs in critical care nurse training provide students with the skills and knowledge necessary to work within an ICU or emergency room, perform research in the critical care nursing field or educate others in nursing science. Some specific required courses might include:
- Health assessment
- Advanced nursing care theories
- Clinical pharmacology
- Advanced research in critical care
- Management of acutely injured patients
- Advanced practice nursing
Popular Career Options
After completing an ADN or RN program and passing the licensure exam, trained nurses can pursue a variety of specializations within the field, including critical care nursing. Nurses who graduate from master's degree programs can hold several different job titles, depending on where they work. These include clinical nurse specialist, critical care nurse practitioner, critical care registered nurse, intensive care unit nurse, and burn unit nurse.
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
Registered nurses are projected to see a faster-than-average growth in employment of 16% from 2014-2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The mean annual wages of nurses were $71,000 in May 2015.
The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses offers voluntary certification for professionals in the field. Nurses can take examinations to earn a variety of credentials, including Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN), Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNPC) and Critical Care Nurse Specialists (CCNS).
Individuals who want to work as critical care RNs need to complete an undergraduate degree in nursing, pass a licensure exam and possible earn certification from an industry group before getting a job. Experienced nurses who want to hold advanced positions in the field of critical care nursing can complete a master's degree program.