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Purpose and Mission
Acute care or critical care nursing is a nursing specialty focusing on taking care of patients experiencing dangerous, life-threatening conditions.
Critical care nursing sub-specialties include surgical, trauma, coronary, medical, paediatric, burns, cardiothoracic, and neonatal intensive care.
Given the level of care required in an ICU, acute care nurses typically work as part of a multidisciplinary team of doctors, consultants, physiotherapists and other specialists to provide optimal patient care
Acute care nurses work in the emergency rooms or intensive care units of hospitals or clinics, and typically report to an ICU or nursing supervisor. Depending on their duties, some critical care nurses may report to department heads.
Although most acute care nurse roles do not involve direct supervisory responsibilities, there are some exceptions, especially relating to training of new ICU nurses. Quite a few critical care nurses eventually move up into management or administrative roles or become nurse practitioners.
Critical care nurses are typically experienced, enrolled registered nurses (requires a bachelor’s degree). RNs must have a current Nursing Registration with the AHPRA (Australian Health Practitioners Agency) to work directly with patients.
Some previous experience with acute care is required to become a critical care nurse. In some cases, specialized training or certification may be required to work in the ICU.
Responsibilities of an Acute Care Nurse
When anyone suffers a heart attack, stroke, shock, severe trauma, respiratory distress or other severe medical issue, it is absolutely essential that they receive immediate medical care. Critical care nurses are trained to provide this kind of intensive care in settings where patients can be given complex screenings and the highest-level treatment protocols.
Typical critical care nurse responsibilities include:
Working with other healthcare professionals to assess a patient’s condition and plan and carry out patient care plans
Treating injuries and/or giving advanced life support
Assisting doctors in performing a variety of procedures
Taking, recording and analyzing patient vital signs
Checking that ventilators, monitors and other medical equipment is operating properly
Providing intravenous fluids and medications
Ordering a broad range of diagnostic tests
Working together with other members of the ICU team
Treating patients based on the latest nursing standards and urgent care protocols
Acting as empathetic patient advocate
Supporting and educating patients and their families
Keep in mind that critical care nurses may also provide care for pre- and post-operative patients (see perioperative nurses).