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How to Become an ICU Nurse

Intensive care unit (ICU) nurses are responsible for the care of highly unstable medical patients who come in to the ICU for critical care.  These high risk patients need skilled nurses able to quickly asses a situation, respond to changes in their condition, and skills with life support systems. ICU nurses often find themselves dealing with end-of-life situations, and must also be prepared to handle intense family and personal decisions being made about the care they are providing to their patients.  ICU Nurses are often very involved with helping give families and patients the information they need to make these tough decisions, and then being there as their  choices are put into action.  Most often, ICU nurses are working in inpatient hospitals and medical facilities.

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ICU Nursing Qualification, Education, and Training

Being an ICU Nurse means being able to handle the stress and emotional strain of caring for very unstable patients, and handling end-of-life situations.  All ICU Nurses first become Registered Nurses (RN).  There are several paths to becoming an RN.  Some nurses will get a bachelor of science in Nursing (BSN) degree at an accredited four-year college or university.  Others will pursue an associates degree in nursing at a junior or community college.  Still others will get a registered nursing diploma through a vocational or technical school, but diploma programs are less common.  After completing the level of education you choose at an approved nursing program, you will need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to become licensed.   From this point, some nurses will start out as medical-surgical nurses, then transition into the ICU and receive further training on the job.  Others will go beyond their Bachelors of Science in Nursing degree to complete their Masters of Science in Nursing and become a Clinical Nurse Specialist or Nurse Practitioner, and then pursue a position as an ICU Nurse.  

Job Outlook For ICU Nursing

Like all registered nurses, ICU Nurses are in high demand.  The specialized and high-stress nature of the field cements this.  According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for a registered nurse was $62,450.  Those with more education or certification will stand to make more.  The top 10% were making over $92,000 annually.

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