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Why Nursing School Graduates Choose to Work in the ICU

MSN nursing degree holders who thrive in high-intensity roles find their passion caring for critically ill patients.

Some call them adrenaline careers—high-pressure jobs where sustained peak performance is required in constantly changing environments. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has included critical care nursing in this category: “Although healthcare providers and emergency workers have some routine tasks, their responsibilities intensify when life-threatening situations arise.”1

If you can think and work fast on your feet in life-and-death situations, with an MSN degree in hand, you may want to point your nursing career in the direction of the intensive care unit (ICU). “Every moment spent in critical care is spent in a mindset of watchful anticipation, until it is not,” says one longtime ICU nurse. “Then it becomes action. Life-saving, fluid action.” 2

Why Nursing School Graduates Choose to Work in the ICU

With a master’s degree in nursing, you can be ready to discover the rewards that come with providing quality and compassionate care to critically ill patients. If you’re wondering whether this is the right career path for you, here are five reasons nursing school graduates often choose to work in the ICU:

  1. Nurse-to-Patient Ratio
    ICU nurses typically are assigned two patients at one time, and some hospitals maintain a 1-to-1 ratio. While it may sound like it, this is not an easy or light caseload. ICU patients must be carefully and continuously monitored, and nurses must be ready to react at the first sign of a potential crisis. Still, delivering quality healthcare to a limited number of patients at any given time is a benefit many ICU nurses cite, as well as the close bond that can develop between patients and nurses.
  2. Continuing Education
    The average ICU stay is 3.3 days.3 Consequently, over the course of a year nurses work with a large number of patients experiencing a diverse range of traumas and illnesses. Nursing school graduates who choose the ICU find motivation in an environment that requires continuous learning and training to stay current on procedures and treatments. While the fundamentals of nursing are a constant regardless of the work setting, the ICU presents its own unique challenges and medical issues every day.
  3. Specialization Opportunities
    RNs who pursue critical care careers can choose the ICU or specialized environments including cardiac care, neonatal intensive care, and surgical intensive care. Some nursing school graduates find their passion in caring for premature and sick babies. For others, providing medical support to adults after heart attacks and surgery is a calling.
  4. Family Support
    Nursing is a helping profession and in critical care units, nurses extend their compassion to family members, whose lives have been thrust into turmoil. A nurse in a neonatal intensive care unit explained, “Because nurses are the ones at a patient’s bedside 24 hours a day we become a parent’s counselor, confidant, teacher, support system, and advocate to the medical team.” 4 This critical service to families is another reason RNs choose this nursing career.
  5. Health Informatics
    Many graduates of master’s in nursing programs who have specialized in health informatics set their careers in the ICU because of its data-rich environment. Since healthcare providers communicate primarily through documentation, nurse informaticists seek to improve the speed and accuracy of patient charting through the use of technology, allowing for better decision-making regarding patient care.
  6. Take Your Nursing Passion to the Next Level

    With an MSN online degree, you can continue working while preparing to take your place as an intensive care unit nurse. The best online nursing schools offer flexible formats and multiple options that allow you to customize your education to your career goals. At Walden University—No. 1 in Master of Science in Nursing graduates in the U.S.5—you can select from eight specializations to meet your goals and aspirations. MSN nursing degrees lead in many fulfilling directions. Step up by earning your Master of Science in Nursing and get ready to step into the nursing career of your dreams.

    Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MSN program with eight specializations. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

    5Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) IPEDS database. Retrieved July 2017, using CIP code 51.3801 (Registered Nursing/Registered Nurse). Includes 2016 preliminary data.

    Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,