Beep. Beep. Beep … Beep … Beep.


Of all the high-level skills an ICU nurse possesses, here’s one that’s underrated: the ability to distinguish sounds rapidly and accurately.

Nurses across a variety of specialties are well acquainted with the beeps, dings, and pings of cardiac and other patient monitoring systems. But just imagine multiplying the number of alarm sounds you hear each hour in your job by a factor of, say, 10 or more, then add a mass of whooshes, hums, and occasional shouts (“I need help here!”). They’re all commonplace (and seemingly never-ending) sounds to RNs working in ICU nursing jobs.

ICUs are notoriously noisy places. Hospitals are turning down the decibels in response to research demonstrating noise, particularly alarm sounds, can adversely affect the recovery of critically ill patients. Studies have also shown that incessant alarms can desensitize an ICU nurse to clinically significant sounds. So-called alarm fatigue can occur among ICU nurses when excessive warning sounds — a majority of them caused by highly sensitive equipment, but ultimately having little clinical relevance — become background noise and dull or mask an urgent need for response.

And yet, successful ICU nurses do respond. Every time. They know that even the subtlest of signals — the sound of a pump going off, for example, or pauses between beeps on a cardiac monitor— can indicate a significant change in the condition of a critically ill patient. In critical care nursing, minutiae matter in a profound, life-and-death way. That’s why ICU nurses aren’t just mindful of details; they’re devoted to them.

Thinkers Wanted

If you’re an organized, detail-oriented RN who’s thinking about changing specialties, an ICU nursing job could be the right professional move for you.

After all, it’s a good time to be an RN working in a critical care setting. ICU nurses are in high demand, and their salaries tend to be greater than their counterparts in other nursing specialties.

But will ICU nursing be a good personal match for you? An enthusiasm for specifics and a strong desire to get things right are musts for success in an ICU nursing job; but independent thinking counts, too. While few studies have deeply explored the extent to which a nurse’s personality predicts his or her satisfaction with a chosen specialty, a review of the literature suggests a correlation may exist.

Researchers found that critical care nurses, for example, tend to rank higher than the average population on traits such as dominance, rebelliousness, and self-sufficiency. Scores on personality tests demonstrate that ICU nurses consider themselves self-reliant decision makers and “thinkers” who base conclusions on logic and objectivity rather than emotions.

Meticulous Manner

To determine your potential for satisfaction and success as a critical care nurse, check your personality traits against the qualities that ICU nurses say help them thrive in their careers:


In a setting in which the seemingly tiniest of things can matter greatly to patients’ safety and recovery, successful ICU nurses take a meticulous approach to patient care. No detail is too small to be recognized, considered, and potentially acted upon, in the high acuity setting of the ICU. A lab value that’s marginally off or a heart rate that’s trending up or down, even slightly, could signal a change in a patient’s condition and the need for action.

ICU nurses are conscientious and thorough. They prefer to be — actually need to be — exact.


To achieve those high levels of precision, ICU nurses tap into their innate organizational abilities and rely on routine. Establishing a routine — and following it — ranks as the No. 1 advice experienced ICU nurses give to new members of their specialty. An ICU nurse constantly runs through a mental checklist: Look at the patient; Check the monitor, vent, and drips; Zero the lines; Adjust alarm limits; Check labs and meds; Calculate I and O totals; Gather supplies; Chart.

Compulsive behavior is beneficial in the ICU. It eliminates guesswork as a shift progresses (“Did I check those labs?”); and, with the basics in hand, it allows nurses to be prepared for emergencies.

Critical Thinking

Like all nurses, ICU nurses react to changes in their patients’ conditions; but because those conditions are complex, they do so more frequently and on a minute scale.

Close monitoring allows critical care nurses to not only identify trends, but also to logically and objectively evaluate those trends to plan and execute an appropriate intervention or other course of action.

ICU nurses are independent and open-minded; they’re critical thinkers who don’t robotically follow orders. They understand not only the outcomes needed for each patient, but also how their actions impact those outcomes. In ICU nursing, it’s not enough to know that a patient’s condition has changed; it’s crucial to ask why and (quickly) reason through responses to achieve the best outcome.


An ICU stay represents a highly vulnerable time for patients and their families. Critical care nurses are deeply attuned to their patients’ needs and serve as bold patient advocates. They’re take-charge, persistent professionals who ensure their patients receive what they need when they need it, period. They’re not reluctant to use their extensive clinical knowledge to make their own judgment calls or question a physician’s orders. They appreciate their physician colleagues’ time and expertise, but they wouldn’t hesitate to call a doctor at 2 a.m., and again half an hour later, and even another hour beyond that, if needed.

Their confidence shows.

Learning Needed

Ready to move forward with a switch from your current specialty to critical care nursing? You’ll need to ensure your skills meet the rigorous needs of the ICU. For starters, complete Advanced Cardiac Life Support and Pediatric Advanced Life Support training; and carefully check (and meet) additional requirements posted in job announcements.

Whether you’ve been in nursing for years or you’re new to the profession, much of the training for ICU nursing positions occurs on the job and through formal or informal orientations. Look for opportunities to expand your knowledge base and skills by attending conferences, including the annual National Teaching Institute & Critical Care Exposition. Stay up-to-date by reading clinical journals, join and participate in professional associations, and complete continuing education courses.

Certification in critical care nursing isn’t necessarily a requirement for ICU nursing jobs, but many nurses in the specialty choose to demonstrate their knowledge and commitment to excellence in patient care through certification. The CCRN credential and other subspecialty certifications, offered by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, also can contribute to career advancement opportunities. Be aware that you’re required to have worked as a critical care RN for a period of time before you’re entitled to sit for the CCRN exam.

If you’re ready to switch gears and start a career in critical care nursing, we’re ready to talk with you! Join Eisenhower Medical Center in our state-of-the-art ICU or other critical care setting. Apply now.

Originally posted on 13/12/2016

Join Eisenhower Health Today!

Your life. Your career. Awaits.

Search Jobs Now