Accountable Healthcare - All ICU Nurses Need These 8 Skills (Do You Have Them?)
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February 7, 2022

All ICU Nurses Need These 8 Skills (Do You Have Them?)

Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurses need a specific skill set to perform their duties well in emergency healthcare. Becoming familiar with the skills necessary is incredibly important when either deciding about pursuing ICU nursing as a career, studying to become one, or already serving in an ICU nurse position. 

What Are the 8 Necessary Skills for ICU Nurses? 

Nurses serve a few vital purposes within the healthcare setting. They must possess a unique blend of personal “soft skills,” such as compassion and relatability, alongside professional industry knowledge. They need to be able to support medical colleagues in enacting treatment plans as well as interface skillfully with a variety of patient types and needs. The following list includes critical knowhow any ICU nurse needs when serving in the field. 

Skill one: A strong base of critical care and life support skills.

Triaging patients and knowing the urgency of a patient’s needs at any given time is vital for nurses that work in ICU settings. A healthcare standard that distinguishes four levels of care based on urgency or situation severity ranges from patient needs that can easily be met in standard healthcare facilities to, at the highest level of urgency, patients that are experiencing respiratory failure or failure within at least two organ systems. ICU nurses must be adept at recognizing a patient’s status and responding appropriately with the correct level of care to stem any possibility that the situation might worsen and instead help those patients move towards increasing levels of stability. 

Skill two: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Knowing how to administer CPR and how to recognize when it is necessary is another critical skill for ICU nurses. Because the ICU treats a large percentage of severe or life-threatening conditions, the likelihood of a patient needing CPR is high at any given time. ICU nurses must be able to perform this intervention without mistake or delay.

Skill three: Handling stressful medical emergencies.

The ICU is often a high-stress environment. Not all personalities naturally lend themselves to remaining calm and collected in pressured situations. Because the activity in the ICU often involves life and death scenarios and lots of people in high need or stressful states at any given time, it is very important that ICU nurses are able to remain emotionally steady no matter what the circumstances. This is vital for both patients, those patients’ family members and friends, and other staff. 

Skill four: A high level of cultural competency.

Medical professionals come into contact with people across a wide range of demographics. Many of these include people of different races, cultures, and ethnicities. Cultural competence in nursing refers to the ability to provide patients with quality medical care while demonstrating astute awareness of their unique cultural values and identity. Cultural identities often include or imply certain beliefs. Nurses that perform this skill well can anticipate how these belief systems may influence that patient’s attitudes, decisions, and behaviors. Culturally competent nurses can also discuss those beliefs with empathy and interest, whether or not they adhere to them personally. 

Skill five: Performing a range of diagnostic tests.

ICU nurses are often responsible for gathering preliminary data about a patient’s condition, and in many cases quickly, so that the doctors that provide treatment have as strong an understanding as possible about what may be going on. Therefore, ICU nurses need strong knowledge and proficiency in performing diagnostics and testing. 

Skill six: Telemetry.

Telemetry refers to the process of utilizing a portable device to monitor patient vitals, particularly their heart activity, respiratory rate, and oxygen saturation. Telemetry devices allow a patient to be monitored continuously over a period of time without needing to be restricted by attachment to a bedside cardiac monitor. ICU nurses are often the personnel that attach and manage a patient’s telemetry device. This tool, and the metrics it provides, is vital to making sure a patient’s condition does not worsen (and detecting it immediately if it does). 

Skill seven: Administering sedation.

This is another technical skill ICU nurses must possess to effectively fulfill their duties. Administering sedation can often become necessary in high-stress situations, and often needs to be performed quickly and accurately to deescalate the scene. ICU nurses are usually the personnel responsible for performing this function. 

Skill eight: Quick, adaptable, and calm decision making.

ICU nurses are often called upon to make informed decisions about a patient’s care. This can occur in high-intensity situations in which the life of the patient may be at stake and acute care is immediately necessary. ICU nurses must be skilled at making clear-headed decisions and effectively gathering the information they need to make sure they can act in the best manner possible. 

How to Develop Your Skills & Continue Advancing Your Education in the Field of Nursing

If you are pursuing, or interested in pursuing, a career in nursing, do your homework. The field is wide and full of options that suit a range of personality types and natural competencies. An important part of determining where in the field of nursing you would most naturally fit and thrive is to understand what’s expected of various nursing roles. ICU nursing may be where you naturally gravitate. And if not, there are plenty of other options or ways to shift your career’s focus to other types of nursing as you go. 

Once you’ve determined the nursing career type that would make a probable fit for your needs and aptitudes, spend time researching the best strategy for entering that particular nursing role. There are many ways to enter the field of nursing. Some areas within nursing require more schooling than others or may be benefited by one entrance route over another. Take the time to learn what educational pathway would benefit you most. This will help you ensure that your nursing career is long-lasting and fulfilling.