Frequently Asked Questions

We understand that critical care nursing is a complex and intricate field, which is why we have compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) for you to consult.

What is Critical Care Nursing?

Critical care nurses are those that work in the intensive care units within hospitals. Intensive care or critical care units treat and monitor patients with life-threatening conditions. Critical care nurses must be extremely detail oriented and have the ability to assess, administer, and implement care for these critically ill patients. They also serve as an advocate for the patient and their family.

What are the Differences Between a BSN, MSN, and DNP?

It is important to start off by defining what each acronym means. BSN stands for Bachelor of Science in Nursing, MSN stands for Masters of Science in Nursing, and DNP stands for Doctor of Nursing Practice.

  • A BSN is an undergraduate degree that prepares students to take the NCLEX exam to become an RN. Nurses with BSNs tend to earn more and achieve higher position that nurses who just earn an Associate’s Degree, though both can become RNs.
  • An MSN is a graduate level degree focused on a particular area or field of study. It usually takes about two years to complete. An MSN prepares nurses for advanced practices and administrative and management positions.
  • A DNP focuses on clinical practice instead of a research-focused, research-intensive doctoral degree. It takes about 3-5 years to complete. Nurses who earn DNPs are trained in quality improvement and systems leadership among other things.

Do I Need a BSN, MSN, or DNP to Go Into Critical Care?

Short answer, no, you don’t. There are a lot of related degrees you can fulfill that can help you get your foot in the door of an ICU. Some of the related degrees that can be pursued include: Health management, emergency prep, and epidemiology.

What Kinds of Patients Come Into the ICU?

Patients who come into intensive care units are those who are critically ill suffering from life-threatening conditions. They require around the clock care from a specialized team of nurses and doctors who are equipped to monitor their condition, notice small fluctuations in their condition and administer and execute treatment. Depending on the patient’s age and condition they will be sent to the ICU, PICU, or NICU.

Patients come to the ICU from a variety of different places. They can come from other floors or units, the ER, transfers from other hospitals, direct admins, and after operations.

Differences Between ICU, NICU, and PICU

To learn more about the differences between critical care units check out our Critical Care Unit Practice Areas page, which provides a an infographic explaining each practice area.

Or visit the individual page of the ICU, NICU, or PICU to get a deeper understanding of each unit.

What Tests Are Conducted in the ICU And Which are Not?

The ICU is equipped to conduct certain tests, while patients will have to travel to other units to take some of the tests they need. Here are a few examples, though these might vary depending on the hospital and the unit itself.
Inside the ICU:

  • X-rays
  • Lab draws
  • Ultrasounds
  • Endoscopies

Outside the ICU:

  • CT scans

Almost all tests can be conducted in ICUs, but tests such as the CT scan require machinery which is usually in a whole different floor. Nurses are in charge of preparing and transporting the patient to the unit where they need to take the test.

Didn’t find the answer you were looking for? No problem! Visit our Ask-a-Nurse section, browse through the Glossary of Terms or feel free to Contact Us.