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Critical Care Nurse

Critical care nurses serve as part of a health care team working with patients with life-threatening or potentially life-threatening injuries, illnesses and conditions. These nurses think and act quickly to stabilize a critical patient in a complex environment. They often work in hospitals in the emergency room (ER), intensive care unit (ICU), cardiac care/cardiac catheter laboratories and post-op recovery areas, where patients either arrive in critical condition or are at risk for becoming critical at a moment’s notice. Critical care nurses are vigilant and must watch their patients closely for signs that a condition might be worsening or that a patient’s health is deteriorating.

Critical care nurses enter the profession trained at a variety of levels, which include a nursing diploma, associate degree in nursing or a bachelor’s degree in nursing, according to the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN). After attaining the appropriate higher education, a potential critical care nurse must take an examination to get their Registered Nurse (RN) license. However, you must earn a master’s degree if you plan on specializing in critical care as an advanced practice nurse with prescriptive authority and a greater degree of autonomy. Many employers will ask that candidates have CCRN certification through the AACN or that a new hire obtain this certification within their first year of employment.

Salaries for critical care nurses vary by education and experience (and what department you work in, if you are employed by a hospital). Certified critical care nurses working in the ICU earned the most (not including advanced practice nurses), pulling in an average of $34.19 an hour, while critical care nurses working in the ER earned an average of $32.33 an hour, according to Payscale.com. Aside from the possibility of a lucrative career, many nurses find critical care rewarding because of the greater opportunity to provide nursing intervention that saves lives. Job prospects in critical care nursing should be excellent because the nursing shortage is most pronounced in critical care, according to the AACN.