If you are considering working in critical care, you probably have asked yourself some essential questions, like, “Do I have what it takes to work in critical care? What is the best way to figure out if the specialty is the right one for me? How can I prepare myself to work in a critical care setting?”
It’s certainly a wise choice to take some time and do your homework before jumping into the specialty, because a career in critical care requires a unique skill set, according to Denise Fochesto, MSN, RN, APN, C, CCRN, chief nursing officer and director of operations, Newton (N.J.) Medical Center, and Brandee Fetherman, MSN, RN, CCRN, nurse manager, neuromedical, pulmonary, hospice and palliative care, Morristown (N.J.) Medical Center. Fochesto has worked in cardiac, medical/surgical and trauma ICUs for more than 30 years, and Fetherman has worked in medical/surgical, neuro and trauma critical care for more than 16 years.
To know if the specialty is the right one for you, here are some questions Fochesto and Fetherman suggest you ask:
- Am I inquisitive and enjoy learning? Do I like learning about and using new technologies?
- Am I a critical thinker?
- Am I collaborative and do I communicate clearly with others? Critical care nursing relies heavily on everyone’s ability to closely communicate the minute-by-minute changes in the patient’s condition, Fetherman said.
- Am I flexible and able to change direction as needed? Can I juggle more than one thing at a time?
- Am I organized and do I have great attention to detail? Effective organizational skills are paramount in being successful, and good time management can make all the difference in your practice, Fochesto said.
- Am I willing and able to extend my nursing care to include families in a patient/family-centered care environment?
- Do I want to take care of the sickest of the sick? A nurse should possess the inner desire to care for the most critically ill patients to be successful, Fetherman said.
If you can answer yes to most or all of these questions, then critical care is probably the right specialty for you, according to Fochesto.
Fochesto and Fetherman suggest specific ways to help you figure out if the critical care setting is right for you. And if you’ve decided to pursue a career in the specialty, these recommendations are helpful preparatory strategies:
- Consider shadowing in the various critical care units in your facility. There are many critical care specialties and they all have their own characteristics and personalities. It will help you see which one suits you the best.
- See if there are opportunities to participate in a residency-type program.
- If you are a nursing student, find out if there are openings for per diem nursing assistants. Perhaps there are student externships, where you can work side by side with a nurse in a critical care setting to get a real feel for the specialty.
- Talk to critical care nurses with all types and years of experience, and you will get honest insights into the real world of the specialty.
- Request a clinical rotation in a critical care unit in your nursing program.
- Research volunteer opportunities in a critical care unit.
- Join a critical care organization and read its journals. Attend critical care learning opportunities and conferences.
- Take a critical care course and/or a dysrhythmia course, which can be found in hospitals or online. Become certified in basic life support and advanced cardiac life support.
- Consider taking your first job in a step-down or progressive care unit as the first step to a critical care unit.
- Be certified in your current specialty because it demonstrates initiative and clinical expertise.