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What is critical care nursing(CCN): Essential skills required in 2024?

A critical care nurse providing emotional support to a bedridden patient.

A guide to starting a critical care nursing career in 2024

Nurses are the backbone of the healthcare system. With the increasing demand for healthcare around the world the demand for nurses and other care staff are also on the rise. The number of people falling seriously ill and the need to provide professional care is where critical care nursing comes into the frame.  

Critical care nurses are also known as Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurses due to the unit where they commonly work. Critical care nurses are highly trained and qualified to comprehend and care for patients of all ages who are recovering from life-threatening diseases or injuries. Due to their nature of work, the demand for critical care nurses is increasing in the UK. However, a significant number of critical care units (CCU) have an annual staff turnover of over 20% (and as high as 42%). A recent survey of UK CC3N (Critical Care Network) members revealed that fifty percent of adult critical care nurses intend to quit their current unit within the next three years. 

In this article, we will be discussing what are critical care nursing, its roles, and responsibilities, its education qualification, etc.

What is critical care nursing?

Critical care nurses (CCNs) administer direct, hands-on treatment to critically ill or injured patients in preoperative and postoperative medical settings. In addition to providing fundamental care, critical care nursing involves collaborating with physicians and specialists to assess, treat, and monitor critically ill patients. Assessing a patient's condition and initiating treatment, taking vital signs, administering life-saving care in emergencies, communicating with patients and their families, setting up intravenous lines, and administering medication are typical ICU nurse duties. Many times, patients in the ICU are ventilated or have multiple IV drips, making the role of registered nurses in the ICU more vital and needing more knowledge of equipment and charting than other registered nurses.  

ICU nurses work in all areas of the healthcare system, including hospitals, ICUs, progressive care units, coronary care units, telemetry units, burn units, step-down units, nursing homes, hospices, outpatient clinics, and some trauma center emergency departments. They can be employed in both private and public healthcare facilities. 

What are the duties and responsibilities of critical care nursing (CCN) in the UK? 

The responsibilities of a CCN differ from those of a registered nurse because they are in a setting where the health of the patient changes rapidly. In addition to providing regular reports to doctors and running diagnostic tests, critical care nurses should be able to rapidly respond to medical emergencies that their seriously ill patients may experience. Some of the duties and responsibilities of a critical care nurse include: 

1. Monitoring exact, detailed reports, recording symptoms as well as other vital changes in the patient, and informing the physician. 

2. Order, interpret, and evaluate diagnostics tests to identify and assess the patient's condition. 

3. Consult and coordinate with healthcare team members about whole patient care plans. 

4. Modifying the patient's treatment plan according to the patient's response and conditions. 

5. Monitor the critical patients for changes in status and indications of conditions such as sepsis or shock and institute appropriate interventions. 

6. Responding to life-threatening situations using nursing standards and treatment protocols. 

7. Ensuring that ventilators, monitors, and other types of medical equipment function properly. 

9. Direct and supervise less-skilled nursing/health care personnel, or supervise a particular unit on one shift to patient’s response and conditions. 

10. Prioritise nursing care for assigned critically ill patients based on assessment data and identified needs. 

How does one become a critical care nurse (CCN) in the UK? 

If you are new to the post or aspire to become one, you have to keep in mind the below step.  

Education and training 

Critical care nursing is a specialised field that calls for advanced education and training. To have a career as a critical care nurse, you must first become a registered nurse in the UK. For that, you should complete a bachelor's degree in nursing which takes almost three to four years, and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). You may be able to do a degree apprenticeship in nursing if you are already working in a healthcare setting in the UK. The apprenticeship lasts approximately four years and consists of both classroom instruction and on-the-job training. After clearing the exam, you must complete a critical care nursing program which can take anywhere from six months to two years. You will be prepared to confront the challenges of working in a critical care environment in the UK, including advanced life support, mechanical ventilation, and other critical care interventions.  

Skills and qualities 

The critical care nursing role in the UK requires a unique set of skills and qualities such as critical-thinking skills, problem-solving skills, and quick decision-making skills, as they will have to make sound decisions in high-pressure situations. They must be skilled at multitasking and have excellent organisational skills and observational skills. In order to perform patient-related activities and communicate effectively with others, nurses must have strong interpersonal skills. Additionally, critical care nurses must be compassionate and empathetic, able to interact with patients and their families during times of extreme stress and anxiety. Written communication skills, research and reporting abilities, and a host of other soft skills that nurses acquire over the course of their careers will be essential for an ICU nurse. 

Challenges and rewards 

Working as a critical care nurse can be extremely challenging, but also highly rewarding. In the critical care units nurses have the chance to make a significant difference in the lives of their patients and their families. They are often the primary source of support for patients and their families during difficult situations. People who are planning to start a career in this field will find their work emotionally taxing, but also incredibly rewarding. 

Salary expectations 

The starting salary for an ICU nurse in the UK is currently £27,055 a year, which corresponds to Band 5 salaries for newly qualified nurses. You will be moved to a new pay position within the banding as your years of experience increase. Typically, in order to advance to a higher banding, you must submit for a new position, preferably after enhancing your skills. Pay at the top of Band 5 is just under £33,000 a year. The majority of the ICU nurses are on Band 6, after taking into account the level of experience and their average salary is approximately £37,000 to £42,000 a year. 

Over the next decade, the demand for ICU nurses in the UK is expected to grow at a much higher rate than most other occupations. Demand for healthcare services, in general, has grown substantially in recent years as needs within the industry and community of the UK have expanded.  
Nurse Group is a well-established nursing agency in the UK that offers a variety of vacancies for healthcare professionals. We are focused on providing the best staffing solutions to our clients and enhancing the career growth of our staff. 

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