Critical Care Nurses


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Concentrate on classes in math and science (particularly biology and chemistry). Because critical care nurses work with a variety of people, psychology and sociology classes will be helpful. Knowledge of a foreign language is also beneficial in this field.

Postsecondary Training

Critical care nurses must be registered nurses. Educational options for registered nurses include a bachelor's of science degree in nursing (BSN), an associate's degree in nursing (ADN), and/or a diploma. The BSN takes four years to complete and is offered by colleges and universities. The ADN is a two-year program at community and junior colleges. Hospitals administer the diploma program, which takes about three years to complete.

Students in nursing programs take courses in anatomy, chemistry, microbiology, physiology, nutrition, psychology, behavioral sciences, and nursing, with the option of also studying liberal arts. In addition to classroom study, nursing students work in hospitals and other health care facilities, under supervision, to gain clinical experience.

Entry-level requirements to become a critical care nurse depend on the institution, its size, whom it serves, and the availability of nurses in that specialty and geographical region. Usually nurses must have some bedside nursing experience before entering the critical care nursing field. However, some hospitals are developing graduate internship and orientation programs that allow new graduates to enter this specialty.

Other Education or Training

Medical technology and nursing are two fields that are constantly changing, and those in this field should take courses, seminars, and attend conferences. Continuing education is a must in order to stay informed about evolving treatment options and procedures and new technology. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses offers more than 300 continuing education classes, webinars, seminars, and workshops. The Society of Critical Care Medicine also provides professional development opportunities. Contact these organizations to learn more. 

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Some institutions may require certification as a critical care nurse. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses offers more than 10 critical care nursing certification credentials to those who are registered nurses or advanced practice registered nurses and who pass an examination. In addition, registered nurses, regardless of specialty, must be licensed in order to practice in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. Licensing is obtained by graduating from an approved nursing program and passing the National Council Licensure Examination.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Critical care nurses must have several years of experience as a registered nurse. 

Critical care nurses should like working in a fast-paced environment that requires life-long learning. This is a very intense nursing field, and nurses should be able to make critical decisions quickly and intelligently. New medical technology is constantly being developed and implemented. Critical care nurses should be technically inclined and able to learn how to operate new medical equipment without feeling intimidated. 

Critical care nurses must be able to deal with major life and death crises. Because of the seriousness of their loved one's illness, family members and friends may be difficult to deal with and the nurse must display patience, understanding, and composure during these emotional times. The nurse must be able to communicate with the family and explain medical terminology and procedures to the patient and family so they can understand what is being done and why.