Critical care services are becoming an increasingly scarce resource in the US. Recent data shows that roughly one-third of critical care nursing positions are available annually.
With the increasing demand, it is no wonder that many people want to become intensive care unit (ICU) nurses.
As per Data USA, more than 700 critical care nursing degrees were awarded in 2021, showing a growth of nearly 33% from the previous year. Moreover, there are currently more than four million critical care nurses nationwide, an increase of over 3% from 2020.
Unlike typical nursing work, ICU nurses are exposed to constant and complex cases that require specialized skills and competencies that foster a deep understanding of medical conditions.
However, before you earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree to become an ICU nurse and acquire those specialized skills, you must first understand the job’s daily responsibilities.
Doing so allows you to do your job efficiently by allocating healthcare resources and prioritizing tasks effectively. Keep reading as this article examines the daily responsibilities of an ICU nurse working in a fast-paced healthcare environment.
Conducting Comprehensive Health Assessments
ICU nurses conduct comprehensive health assessments to collect essential patient health information, identify and verify diagnoses, and make educated clinical decisions on evolving medical status and management.
During these medical assessments, ICU nurses ask patients about their past medical history, current lifestyle, vaccination status and health behaviors to create a treatment plan.
While performing a medical assessment, ICU nurses also consider the patient’s cultural beliefs to provide inclusive care. Put simply, you must learn about the meaning of the patient’s illness concerning their distinct cultural beliefs. Doing so enables ICU nurses to acquire essential data to provide culturally inclusive medical care.
Furthermore, the answers to these questions can help ICU nurses create a comprehensive patient profile that can guide them when dealing with different groups and cultures.
Creating an environment of respect and openness for all individuals is more important than ever in today’s healthcare industry. When ICU nurses can understand their patients’ cultural and societal beliefs, communities, and practices, they can provide a space where everyone can feel safe.
According to the Health Policy Institute, culturally sensitive care can improve patient outcomes and quality of care and contribute to the elimination of racial and ethnic health disparities.
Although culturally appropriate care is essential, becoming familiar with the cultural dynamics of various ethnocultural groups in the nation can be a daunting task, especially if you have other patients to deal with.
Rather than taking the virtually impossible task of learning about multiple cultures, ICU nurses can ask the following questions to understand the disease from the patient’s point of view:
- What do you think has caused your disease?
- What do you fear most about your illness?
- What are the most important results you want to get from this treatment?
- What kind of medication do you think you should receive to get better?
- Why do you think it started, and when did it start?
On the surface, this might seem counterintuitive as patients will most likely answer based on their subjective feelings and beliefs. However, imposing Western medical practices immediately without acquiring the answers to the questions above might do more harm than good. What’s more, it may result in them being only partially on board with the treatment plan.
Moreover, it would help if you determined how embedded your patient is in their traditional culture. The extent of the patient’s societal embeddedness significantly impacts whether you can find some leeway regarding their medication options.
With the correct information, ICU nurses can gain essential insights into the patient’s treatment regimen and compliance and determine if compatibility issues arise.
Monitoring Patient Progress
Tracking patient progress is one of the essential responsibilities of an ICU nurse. Depending on the patient’s condition, an ICU nurse monitors their vital signs, including pulse rate, temperature, blood pressure, respiratory rate and oxygen levels. They might also pay close attention to nonverbal cues to identify the underlying causes of the patient’s health-related issues.
It is possible to learn these skills when you earn your BSN at Holy Family University to become an ICU nurse. This accelerated BSN is designed for those who already hold a bachelor’s degree. The program offers free clinical placement services to help you find sites for your hands-on clinical training. The course takes just 14 months to complete.
On the surface, monitoring and writing down information about a patient’s progress might not seem like a lot, but it can steer the course of their overall treatment plan and health. There are several reasons why monitoring patient progress is critical for ICU nurses:
- Early detection complications: Constant patient monitoring empowers ICU nurses to determine any signs of complications and vital changes. Doing so enables them to initiate timely interventions and prevent further complications. This is especially important, considering that ICU patients are at higher risk of developing complications because of the severity of their illness and the care levels they need.
- Guide treatment decisions: Monitoring various health indicators allows ICU nurses to evaluate the patient’s response to treatments and interventions. As ICU nurses are closely tracking the patient’s condition, they can provide valuable data to that healthcare team, helping to make educated decisions on the next course they must take.
- Provide personalized care: Personalized care is gaining significant traction within healthcare circles and for good reasons. Through personalized care, healthcare professionals can identify and address risk factors early to prevent the onset of certain conditions. By monitoring patients closely, ICU nurses can evaluate their responses to treatments and tailor their care accordingly.
- Evaluate treatment effectiveness: Monitoring patient progress allows ICU nurses to evaluate the effectiveness of existing treatments and interventions. Doing so enables them to adjust and optimize treatments timely to address side effects and prevent complications. Furthermore, it allows ICU nurses to implement supportive measures to better meet the patient’s needs if their progress is not as expected.
Effective patient monitoring also makes it possible for ICU nurses to coordinate care between members of the nursing team. Through proper collaboration, nursing teams can close gaps in communication, reduce readmission and promote patient-centered healthcare. Coordinated efforts among ICU nurses and other healthcare providers can avoid redundant tests, procedures and safety while reducing care disruptions.
Medication administration is a crucial component of an ICU nurse’s role. Contrary to popular belief, administering medications is more than the act of handing the drug to the patient. It is a systematic process that involves thoroughly evaluating the medication order from the doctor to ensure accuracy and appropriateness. This means collecting the required medications and checking labels, expiration dates and dosages.
ICU nurses also check their identification bracelets and confirm information such as name and date of birth to verify the patient’s identity and ensure that the medication is administered to the right individual. This is especially important, considering that medication administration errors are rampant within the American healthcare system. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, more than 100,000 medication administration errors are reported annually. It added that medication administration errors result in around 7,000 to 9,000 deaths every year.
Once ICU nurses have verified the patient’s identity, they must also evaluate their condition to ensure that it is safe to administer the medication. After administering the medication, ICU nurses document the details, including any specific patient response, to maintain accurate records and enable comprehensive patient care. Following this, they monitor patients for any immediate effects and adverse reactions to ensure medication safety and effectiveness.
In short, ICU nurses must follow these five rights of medication administration to prevent medical errors:
- Right patient: ICU nurses ask patients for their names and examine their medical bracelets.
- Right drug: ICU nurses ensure that the medication being taken matches the prescription name recommended.
- Right path: ICU nurses evaluate how medications are administered to patients. Depending on the patient’s preference and circumstances, medications are administered orally, intravenously and topically.
- Right time: ICU nurses consider the time that medications are administered to ensure that they are as near to the target schedule as possible.
- Right dosage: ICU nurses confirm that the prescription is appropriate for the patient to prevent unwanted side effects and further complications.
By adhering to these five rights of medication administration, ICU nurses can build trust with their patients by demonstrating a commitment to safety and wellbeing. This ultimately results in patients being more likely to follow treatment plans and adopt healthy lifestyles that can lead to better overall outcomes. As it shows that ICU nurses have their best interests in mind, this increases the likelihood of patients actively participating in their healthcare decisions.
Operating and Maintaining ICU Equipment
ICU nurses use equipment such as blood pressure machines, thermometers, pulse oximeters, glucometers and stethoscopes when caring for their patients. Depending on where they work and the licenses they hold, ICU nurses may also be required to operate more specialized machinery such as wound drainage systems, ventilation equipment and intravenous infusion pumps.
Often, ICU nurses perform the following responsibilities when managing and ensuring the proper functioning of equipment:
- Routine equipment checks: ICU nurses perform regular checks on all equipment, including infusion pumps, ventilators, monitors and other life support devices, to ensure that they are in working order.
- Maintenance: ICU nurses work with technical staff and biomedical engineers to schedule regular calibration and maintenance of equipment for accuracy and reliability. They also work with similar individuals to identify and troubleshoot any issues.
- Documentation: ICU nurses maintain comprehensive records of equipment checks, maintenance activities and any issues. Through proper documentation, they can generate the accurate status of equipment and facilitate timely interventions. Moreover, accurate documentation ensures compliance with regulatory requirements.
ICU nurses often undergo extensive training and education to become proficient and gain essential nursing skills in operating, recording and maintaining specialized equipment used to run tests in the ICU. While working toward their BSN, student nurses receive training on various life support devices, monitoring systems, and other critical care equipment to develop the required skills and knowledge for safe and effective use.
Educating Patients in Managing Illnesses
ICU nurses educate patients about various health conditions and provide clear instructions on how they can manage their symptoms. When patients understand their conditions and care options, it is possible to eliminate disparities, achieve health equity and make better treatment decisions. Moreover, patient education allows ICU nurses to establish caring and reciprocal relationships by making patients feel more comfortable asking questions and seeking assistance.
Doing so allows ICU nurses to collaborate with patients on how they can better care for themselves at home. This ultimately results in reducing readmission rates and improves quality of life, especially for patients with chronic diseases. Recent reports reveal that the average patient readmission rates are increasing by 14% annually, with costs rising to over $15,000. By educating patients in managing their illnesses, ICU nurses can ensure that they and their families understand aftercare hospital instructions.
Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach to patient education, ICU nurses often educate patients about managing illnesses by offering detailed explanations about their health condition, prognosis, and the expected course of treatment. Doing so allows the patients and families to understand the situation and make informed decisions on the next step. Alternatively, ICU nurses offer guidance on dietary restrictions and medications and explain the role of nutrition in the medication process to ensure that the patient can achieve holistic healing.
While educating patients and their families, ICU nurses must relay information and instructions clearly. Often, ICU nurses use complex medical concepts when speaking to patients and families. While talking with patients and families, they should avoid using these concepts to prevent miscommunication.
Considering that poor communication in healthcare contributes to roughly 80% of critical medical errors, using simple language when speaking with patients is essential for ICU nurses to create a treatment plan that addresses the former’s healthcare needs and requirements. This also increases the likelihood of patients disclosing the true extent of their symptoms and following through with recommendations as they fully grasp the details and reasons behind their care plan.
Start a meaningful career as an ICU nurse today
As the critical care nursing industry continues to face a shortage, there is no better time than today to begin an ICU nursing career. By becoming an ICU nurse, you will be at the forefront of positively influencing patient outcomes and providing compassionate care.
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