One Nurse’s Take: Working in the ICU

“Since beginning my RN journey, my outlook and perspective on life have changed dramatically,” says Jamie Dupont, RN, in this look at her life in the ICU.

We spoke with Jamie Dupont, RN—and a relatively new RN, at that—about about her choice to become a nurse in the ICU, and what she has learned since. Read on for some insight into the trials and triumphs of her experience.

You’re an ICU nurse, and a relatively new one. How are you liking your job so far? Is it different than you expected it to be? What are the major differences between nursing school and being a nurse?

I am new to the field of nursing; however, I am experienced in the medical field as a paramedic. I enjoy the ICU aspect of medicine. It is very challenging not only physically and mentally, but emotionally, as well. I am used to dealing with a patient for a very short, limited amount of time, whereas being in the ICU, I can have a particular patient and their family for up to four twelve-hour shifts. It is definitely different than I expected it to be. One wrong decision or error on my behalf, and I could have a serious problem on my hands. It is more high stress than when I was in school. While in school, you have an instructor to look over all of your medications and watch how you perform your skills, so that you do them correctly. Once you are on your own, there are resources all around you, but it’s pretty much up to you to make things happen.

Is working in the ICU the specialty you wanted to get into when you started the process to become a nurse? If not, how did you end up there? What drew you to working in the ICU?

I worked pre-hospital for 7 years and wanted to explore my options as a RN. I did not want to work somewhere that I would be comfortable and not allow myself to broaden my knowledge base. I also was considering moving on in the near future to become a CRNA or ACNP. I am still unsure if graduate school is in my future, however, I start my BSN in August. I figured that critical care is another challenging way to build my knowledge, as an emergency provider. It is also a great way to become a well-rounded RN. If you can hack it in the ICU as a new graduate nurse, you can hack it in any department, at any hospital, in my opinion. I chose to work for a Level 1 teaching hospital. This means that we have the highest inpatient acuity. We admit some of the most sick and unstable patients in the area, which allows me to see some cases that no one else may ever see in their lifetime. Not even as a seasoned nurse, with many years of experience.

What are the challenges you face working in your specialty, and what do you find most rewarding?

One of the biggest challenges in the ICU, especially in a neurosurgical unit, is the amount of mortality that we deal with. Even when patients end up surviving, they have major life altering deficits that affect not only the patient, but their family and friends, also. I see many families that have to make very difficult decisions regarding loved ones, and sometimes you see the results of these decisions. Families go to extreme lengths to keep a family member alive. However, the long-term effects can be detrimental to the patient and the family. It is unfortunate and can be very upsetting to witness what these individuals must go through. Since beginning my RN journey, my outlook and perspective on life have changed dramatically.

Can you describe your typical day on the floor?

A typical day on my unit consists of getting report from the night shift RN. We have a unit huddle every morning, where our nurse manager discusses any important unit issues or things that need to be addressed. I assess my patients as soon as I arrive and start to organize my day. Sometimes my day will go as planned, but most of the time it does not. On day shift, we do “rounds,” where the providers, charge nurse, dietary, OT, PT, and case management will come around and get a quick update on each patient. We figure out a plan from there and what the goal is for each patient. How my day will unfold depends on the patient. If my patient is complex and needs more attention, then they will be getting what they need. We act as a team on my unit and if anyone needs help, there are more than enough hands to go around. Meds are given, interventions are completed as necessary, and families are taken care of on an individual basis. I like to involve family as much as possible, as it will help make my day and the patient’s day move along smoothly. If they will help feed a patient that needs feeding, I will show them what to do. If they would like to help suction a patient’s mouth when they need it, I will give them a quick lesson on how to use the suction catheter. It is all about keeping them involved and making them feel like they are able to do something for their loved one. This especially helps in a time when some of these families feel so helpless.

What personal and professional traits do you think qualify someone to work in the ICU as a nurse?

To work in the ICU, you must have patience, first and foremost. There is a saying that ICU nurses are “OCD” and Emergency Department nurses tend to be more “fly by the seat of their pants”. I think someone can find a happy medium between both, and be a great nurse, in both realms. Patience in learning, patience with people, patience with yourself. That is key to becoming a great ICU nurse. It is not an easy path, to choose to work with some of the sickest people on this earth. There are days that are extremely challenging, even for someone who is used to dealing with very sick or injured people. You have to also be able to have good coping skills. If you are the type of person that takes your work home with you, then the ICU may not be a great job for you. Some of the situations you encounter can be trying and you have to be able to handle it in a healthy manner. ICU is not for the faint of heart, but if you are up for the challenge, it is very rewarding.

What advice would you give to someone considering working as a nurse in the ICU?

I think if you are considering working in the ICU that perhaps you should get some experience and shadow someone in that unit, before jumping in headfirst. I believe, in nursing, no matter what you chose as your path, it is always a good practice to shadow and see if it is something you are going to enjoy doing for twelve hours a day. It may not be everything you thought it would be. Make sure it is something you will enjoy. If not, becoming a nurse is a great opportunity to branch out and find something of interest. There are many avenues in this field, which is the main reason I went to school to become a RN. Opportunities are endless! The only quality that all RNs must have is that they must be compassionate and caring. If you are both of these things, then the nursing world is your oyster.

Interested in sharing some insight about your specialty and experience with your fellow nurses? Email us to set up an interview.

Disclaimer: The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.