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Pros & Cons of Being an ICU Nurse

*Original post released on 12/26/2022

Many nursing students and nurses look forward to a career in critical care at some point. Without having experience in this specialty, it can be difficult to see or know the potential pros and cons of pursuing a career in ICU. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the pros and cons I’ve personally made note of throughout my *nearly* four years as an ICU nurse. First, we’ll take a look at the pros, and then we’ll take a look at the cons. Hopefully this objective look at the critical care field will help you determine if it’s an area of nursing worth pursuing for yourself. Let’s dive in!

Pros of critical care:

  • Endless opportunities to grow and learn professionally
  • Diversity of equipment and procedures seen and/or recovered
  • Increased knowledge and understanding of medications
  • Increased collaboration with other medical professionals within critical care and from other specialties
  • Multiple specialty and sub-specialty certifications available to pursue
  • Ability to transition more smoothly (knowledge-wise) to other units such as med-surg, tele, ER, etc.
  • Nurse-to-patient ratios are usually a range from 1:1, 1:2, or 1:3 unless there are extenuating circumstances (as were sometimes seen during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic)
  • Can potentially open up doors for you professionally to pursue higher education and licensure (Ex: CRNA, acute care NP)

Cons of critical care:

  • Gravity of your patient assignment can be heavy; low nurse-to-patient ratios don’t always equate to an easy assignment
  • Emotional distress from handling some cases
  • Switching to another unit can be difficult to adjust to if the nurse-to-patient ratios are higher
  • It can be a competitive, and sometimes catty, field
  • Stressful environment emotionally, mentally, and at times, physically
  • You’ll often have to make difficult decisions for or with your patients, their family, and other medical professionals
  • Compassion fatigue can happen fairly quickly
  • There is an overwhelming amount of information to learn and retain when you first begin in critical care, especially if you’re doing so as a new grad nurse
  • It can take up to a year before you feel comfortable and have a functional routine established

While this is, of course, a limited list of pros and cons, hopefully it can help give you some clarity about the critical care specialty. Again, these are pros and cons I’ve come to notice during my personal experience as an ICU nurse, so not all of them may apply to you. The main point here is that you have take the leap and work in critical care to truly know which aspects are pros and cons for you. Until next time, happy studying!

Andra Alyse

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