If you are like many nurses, you may be looking for a way to advance your career or get into a new field in nursing to breathe new life into your career. If you work in a large enough hospital, one option that may be easily open to you is a transition into critical care nursing. It may initially seem frightening to consider going into this type of nursing. After all, the ICU nurse routinely saves lives, and you may be concerned that you don’t have what it takes to make it in this fast-paced environment. These five tips will help you gain confidence and will show you a few concrete things you can do to make the transition as easy as possible.
Find a Mentor
Your first step should be to find someone who can walk you through this process. Find a friend or colleague who works in a critical care department and ask them for advice. You may even be able to shadow your friend for a shift or two to get an idea of the differences between the two departments. Look for someone who has years of experience and who has risen through the ranks herself.
Get to Know the Equipment
It’s certainly true that your patients’ ICU rooms will look far different from the typical room on a med/surg floor. You will see many machines, IV drips and cords, some of which you may not even recognize. Study up on this equipment, preferably with the help of your mentor. You will need to know basics about ventilators, bedside dialysis machines, IV pumps, balloon pumps and more.
Brush up on Drugs and Diagnoses
The diagnoses that you will see in the ICU will be far more life-threatening than those you’re used to seeing, and many of them require constant care with IV medications. You will need to understand drips for blood pressure, heart rate, diuresis and more and will need to learn how to titrate them correctly.
Be Prepared to Communicate
While great communication among colleagues is critical for any nurse, it is especially vital for ICU nurses. You will need to be able to communicate patient statuses and issues to doctors at the drop of a hat because even small delays can spell disaster for these fragile patients. Work on getting more comfortable with sharing information whether over the phone or in person.
Get Your Certifications in Order
One of the best ways to get ready for critical care nursing is to take advanced training. ACLS training is typically required for all critical care nurses because they’re often the ones called on to run codes throughout the hospital. During this course, you will learn more about life-saving drugs, you’ll practice hands-on scenarios and you’ll practice communication skills with colleagues. Another option that is not required for bedside nursing but that can help you gain important skills is a Critical Care Registered Nurse certification by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses.
Remember that working in the critical care environment is certainly a transition for anyone, and you’ll need to give yourself grace and time to learn the ropes. However, by choosing to work closely with a mentor in your new department and finding ways to learn new skills that you’ll be using every day in this unit, you can feel more comfortable and confident whenever you come into work. In addition, investing in your skills with classes and certifications is a great way to make sure you have the knowledge you need for emergency situations.