ICU Nurse Career

ICU nurses work with the patients in intensive care facilities who have the gravest illnesses and injuries. Therefore, these nurses need to be both sympathetic and highly capable. They work closely with patient families as well as doctors to keep grievously ill patients alive, and they must have the emotional stamina to accept that they simply cannot save everyone.

Job Description

The Intensive Care Unit, or ICU, is where patients who require the most care are placed. Nurses who work in this area of the hospital need to keep watch over people whose condition may undergo rapid changes. They will also care for those who are often too ill to care for themselves in even the most basic capacity. An ICU nurse needs to be able to make quick judgments about the status of the patient and summon the necessary professionals in the case of a crisis. They also work closely with the families of patients, keeping them up-to-date on the status of the patient and making sure they understand all aspects of their family member's care.

Education and Training

ICU nurses must first and foremost be an RN, but just any RN certification is not suitable for this position. Those who have the desire to work in the ICU must have a Bachelor's degree in nursing rather than an Associate's degree or a nursing certification. An RN requires a licensing test as well as schooling, but even further licensure is sometimes required for ICU nurses. In some cases, working in the ICU may require a certain amount of experience in the nursing field, an internship or additional coursework. These requirements may change from state to state and hospital to hospital.

Costs Involved

The most pressing cost is the tuition for the Bachelor's degree, ranging anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000. The licensing and tests required for an RN have varied additional costs, and in some cases may need to be renewed periodically. The licensing for working in the ICU, which only some states require, may be another thing you need to pay for, as well as any ICU courses required by the state or the hospital in which you choose to work. If a hospital requires a internship, it may be necessary to figure out how you will pay living expenses as you work through your internship.

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Funding and Scholarships

There are a vast array of scholarship opportunities for nursing students in general. The Caroline E. Holt Nursing Scholarship offers $1,000 for nursing students who can prove financial need, and the AACN offers a wide variety of scholarships for nurses focusing on critical care. Aside from these are dozens of other opportunities for nursing students of various backgrounds. Scholarship availability is dependent upon such varied factors as race, gender, age and GPA. A great number of other scholarships for nurses are offered by hospitals, high schools and specific colleges.

Job Openings and Opportunities

ICU nurses work almost exclusively in hospital ICUs, but within that, there is quite a bit of leverage to choose a work environment. Large metropolitan areas are busier, so if you want to be challenged by your work environment, this would be the place for you. More rural areas are not as busy, but they may have fewer opening available. It is also possible to specialize further in the different kinds of patients for whom you would like to provide care, such as pediatrics or oncology. With additional schooling, management positions for nurses in the ICU are available, so there is plenty of upward mobility


The median pay of ICU nurses is about $65,000 per year. Your pay will rest on a variety of factors such as schooling, additional licensure for specialization, experience, and the need in your specific area. New ICU nurses may earn as little as $49,000 per year, but this rate climbs steadily as more experience is accrued.

Career Outlook

The career outlook for nursing students in general is great, and even better for those who are willing to work in the ICU. The nursing profession as a whole is expected to grow much faster than average in the future, as people are living longer and requiring more care. The growth rate is expected to remain at around 2.5% per year over the next decade with some 14% of available jobs remaining vacant. ICU nurses tend to have high turnover rate due to the emotionally intense requirements of their job, and openings are nearly always available in most areas.

While this job can be very emotionally draining, it can be just right for a person with the correct temperament, and it is always in high demand. The pay is excellent and usually includes a lot of benefits, though the hours are sometimes very long and the job itself can be quite physically demanding. Nurses who are no longer able to handle the strain of the ICU will always have the ability to switch to another less stressful unit in the hospital.

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