Find Your Road Map: Destination ICU Nursing

Sometimes changing nursing specialties can be difficult because where you want to is so different from your current experience. However, it doesn’t always require a long route with a lot of stops along the way. Some specialties are closely related, and transitioning between them is as easy as deciding to get off at the next exit. Regardless of the distance, it takes commitment, courage, and patience. And who knows, maybe your current destination will send you on another road trip and allow you to experience nursing in a way you never thought possible.

Intensive Care Unit

ICU nurses have to stay calm when dealing with complex patients and equipment. They have a lot of autonomy and manage multiple body systems at once. A lot of technical skill is required. ICUs can sub-specialize in patient populations (ex. being MICU, SICU, CVICU, and PICU).

Patient Type:

  •  ICU patients come from the ER, OR, or are admitted from the floor if their condition begins to deteriorate.
  •  These patients are considered unstable, so there is a chance their condition will worsen significantly and rapidly.

Unit Pace:

  •  An ICU is fast-paced because patient conditions can change so suddenly.
  •  Nurses have to be ready to assist with highly situational-dependent procedures at any moment, like intubation or starting vasopressors.
  •  ICUs care for the sickest patients in the hospital.
  •  Nurse-to-patient ratios are typically 1:1 or 1:2, depending on patient condition.

Experience Required:

  •  Undergraduates interested in working in an ICU should look into a nursing externship. Students in these programs can transition to a graduate nurse position after completing school.
  •  ICU training is intense and usually lasts several months.
  •  Experienced nurses go through the same training as new nurses, though those coming from another ICU may complete training faster.


  •  Most hospitals require ICU nurses caring for adults to get a CCRN designation, and certifications are available for nurses working in pediatric and neonatal ICUs, too.
  •  ACLS training is required.

Final Destination vs. Pit Stop

  •  The Specialty of ICU has subspecialties depending on the size of the facility and what they are certified to receive. Subspecilaties care for specific patient type of patient that meets ICU criteria: MICU, SICU, CVICU, BurnICU, NeuroICU, TraumaICU, Neonatal ICU, PediatricICU, and PsychICU.
  •  ICU nurses can easily transition to other areas in the hospital that require this level of experience, for example, to the OR or cath lab.
  •  Several years of ICU experience are also required for some nurse anesthetist programs.

How to Make ICU Your Next Destination?

To reach the next step in your nursing career, you need a map to get you from where you are now to the specialty you aim to be. Knowing what the specialty is and the experience you need for a new specialty is only 2 of 6 steps to make that transition a reality.

For the other 4 steps needed to change nursing specialties:

Find Your Road Map: 6 Essential Steps to Change Nursing Specialty