The work of a critical care nurse is extremely varied. They are the front-line workers – the first port of call for severely ill or injured patients. They must deliver assessments, undertake medical procedures, and become advocates for the patients under their care. Here are six of the crucial jobs undertaken by critical care nurses:
A nurse is often the first staff member that a patient comes into contact with when they enter an intensive care unit. Nurses, therefore, have an essential role as first assessors. Using their medical knowledge and through interacting with the patient, they need to make the first assessment of the patient’s condition.
This can determine the level of care that a patient needs and has a massive effect on their chances of survival and recovery. Quick thinking needs to be backed up with medical empiricism.
Ordering Diagnostic Tests
Nurses are in a perfect position to identify the need for diagnostic tests. Their care and assessment of patients can lead to the identification of telltale symptoms or changing homeostatic signs. Critical care nurses should have a good knowledge of the meanings that new symptoms can have. They will then make a report calling for diagnostic tests to be carried out.
This is essential work. Nurses working on the front line act as the eyes and ears of the diagnostic medical apparatus in a critical care ward. There are many kinds of diagnostic test which a critical care nurse should become familiar with. Diagnostics are complex, but knowing about the mechanisms behind the tests can help a nurse identify the correct diagnostic method for their patient.
Taking Vital Signs
Nurses are responsible for taking vital signs from patients during their rounds on an intensive care ward. This can include the monitoring of blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar, and temperature. Any major divergence in vital sign readings from the norm can indicate the need for further diagnostic tests or immediate intervention. Junior registered nurses spend a large part of their day undertaking vital sign tests on patients under their care.
Minor Medical Procedures
Although doctors have traditionally performed most major clinical procedures in critical care settings, nurses have an increasingly varied role to play in the completion of medical tasks. Inserting and monitoring intravenous medication, dose calculations, wound management, intubation, and urinary catheter insertion are all tasks that can be completed by nurses. Due to the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses have had to deal with far more patients relying upon mechanical ventilation and have often been the staff members best placed to intubate a patient.
Although most medical procedures undertaken by critical care nurses are minor, some nursing staff will have far more clinical responsibility. Registered critical care nurses can further educate themselves through online DNP programs, specialist critical care courses, and mentorship programs in order to gain more medical proficiency. There has been a ‘mission creep’ in clinical nursing skills in recent years, and senior nursing staff are always in demand.
Patients are often going through a transitional period. They need to learn how to care for themselves after their illness or injury. A critical care nurse is an educator: helping patients understand how their body has changed and how they can care for themselves. Nurses will have to teach patients how to use new equipment, how to care for wounds, how to spot signs of recurring issues, and how to seek specialist help.
Time in a critical care ward can be extremely traumatic for a patient, who might be worried about the future or scared to be away from family. Nurses need to be clear about the protocols and procedures that they are implementing – helping a patient adjust through the clear delivery of knowledge. The unknown is scary, and nurses can have a hand in dispelling that fear.
Critical care nurses need to be advocates for their patients. Advocacy, broadly speaking, is defending the rights, wishes, and properties of others. Patients in need of critical care are often at their most vulnerable. They are susceptible to manipulation and abuse. Nurses should be able to take the wishes of their patients into account and communicate them clearly to doctors and family members.
Safeguarding is a fundamental part of patient advocacy. Nurses need to be on the lookout for telltale signs of abuse and neglect. Nurses are often the people responsible for the critical institutional interventions that can completely change people’s lives for the better when they are being manipulated or abused.