How Do You Become a Critical Care Nurse?

To become a critical care nurse, you need steady hands, the ability to make decisions on the spot and a strong work ethic. These nurses often work in emergency rooms and in urgent care centers. While doctors are the ones responsible for diagnosing patients and deciding on the best course of treatment, nurses are the ones who follow through with those treatments and keep an eye on patients. Once you have your nursing degree and become a licensed nurse, you can get the certification and experience necessary to work in critical care nursing.

Get Your Nursing Degree

Whether you want to work in a hospital, community health center or doctor’s office, you need your nursing degree. Colleges offer both associate’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees in nursing. You can earn your associate’s in two years or your bachelor’s in four years. RN to BSN programs let you carry over some of the credits you earned in an associate’s program to finish your bachelor’s degree. This lets you go to work and start developing better skills before you go back to school.

Become a Licensed Nurse

Before you can become a critical care nurse, you must have your nursing license. After finishing your degree, you need to apply for a license from the Board of Nursing in your state. It will require that you pay for a criminal background check and that you submit your fingerprints to a local police station for this check. You’ll also need to take the NCLEX, which is a long computerized test that asks you questions about several key areas of nursing, including patient care, prescription medications and nursing ethics. The state can only award you a license if you pass both the test and the background check.

Gain Practical Skills

Gaining practical skills is an important part of becoming any type of nurse. Those working in critical care must react quickly, follow directions and think on their feet. Consider doing some volunteer work for an organization like the Red Cross that offers free medical care during emergency situations. You can also show employers that you developed similar skills in past nursing jobs. Working in a busy urgent care center teaches you how to handle the needs of multiple patients, take vital signs and work with their families. You usually need a few years of general nursing experience before working in a critical care department.

Obtain Your Certification

If you want to become a critical care nurse, you also need specialized certification. Nurse Journal recommends getting your certification in either Pediatric Advanced Life Support or Advanced Cardiac Life Support. The American Association of Critical Care Nurses also offers certification for those working in this field. You need to have between two and five years experience and show proof that you completed at least 1,750 hours of clinical training. The Association lets nurses sign up for the certification exam online and also lets them easily renew their certification once it expires in the future.

Related Resource: What is a Health Policy Nurse?

Critical care nurses work with patients facing serious medical conditions and injuries, including heart attack, stroke and brain injuries. They must know how to follow directions, make fast decisions and keep patients calm. You must have a nursing degree, your license, some experience and your certification before you can become a critical care nurse.