Profile of a critical care nurse
Specialty demands nurses with 'the right stuff'
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By Eileen P. Williamson

At one time or another I’m sure you’ve heard the term “the right stuff.” You might think of it as the integral tools or ingredients for a project or as a phrase used in the business world to define someone who has capabilities and qualities that make him or her the perfect fit for a particular job. But what is the right stuff when it comes to critical care nursing?

Typical job descriptions for critical care nurses describe them as members of one of the most complex and challenging specialties in nursing and itemize
the required education
, training, skill, certification and experience the specialty requires. But an individual’s character traits are just as important in having the right stuff. As a nurse who has worked with critical care nurses and has relied on them to care for my loved ones, here’s what I think those traits include.
The ideal critical care nurse …
Has strong clinical, assessment, communication and observational skills.
Is an advocate for patients and families.
Is a leader who can take the initiative, make tough patient care decisions, and accept accountability for outcomes.
Likes learning from others, as well as teaching.
Thrives on change and works as a change agent.
Can serve as a manager, policy maker or strategic planner, but also is a Type A personality who wants to be where the action is and where he or she is most needed.
Is a confident self-starter with strong critical thinking skills
Is always vigilant, responsive, efficient and organized.
Can think and act autonomously, but also functions well on an interprofessional team.
Is passionate about the job and compassionate and empathetic with patients and families.
Because critical care nurses are present during some of the most difficult patient care moments, they need to be knowledgeable about patients’ rights, ethical issues and the end-of-life scenarios they will eventually be faced with. The gravity of patients’ conditions require nurses with nothing less than the right stuff. If you’re a critical care nurse, we recognize and applaud you for what you do. If you’re currently in another specialty and considering a move to critical care, I hope this information will be helpful in your soul searching about whether to join the specialty.
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Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN, is the former senior vice president and chief nurse executive at OnCourse Learning. Williamson continues to write for and serve in an advisory role.