Trying to move your nursing career in a new direction? The fast-paced jobs as an ICU nurse or ER nurse are both options you should consider. But what’s the difference?
ICU Nurse or ER Nurse: The Differences
Both of these jobs are fast-paced, require quick-thinking, and deal with life or death situations. Obviously they work in different parts of the hospital.
But what are the other differences between these two jobs?
There are more than you might think!
Let’s look at each job individually and see what’s different between an ER nurse and an ICU nurse.
What an ICU Nurse Does
ICU nurses work in the Intensive Care Unit – also commonly called Critical Care. They manage and care for patients that are at a critical stage in their health. These patients will be either near-death or are fragile and recovering. They require constant monitoring and vigilance.
Since critical care patients require so much attention, an ICU nurse will typically only have to work with one or two patients per shift.
The main duties of an ICU nurse include:
- Monitor vital signs
- Stabilize patients when needed
- Educate family members throughout the process
- Document any changes and actions are taken
- Manage ICU equipment like catheters and breathing tubes
- React quickly to codes
Any changes in vital signs or on the equipment could be detrimental. ICU nurses must be incredibly aware and vigilant at all times.
Since these patients have such critical health, ICU nurses must be excellent communicators. When they leave their shift, they have to make sure the next nurse understands everything that happened on your shift and the actions you took.
What an ER Nurse Does
An ER nurse works in the emergency room/emergency department. This means they will experience a wide variety of patients and issues. From a minor stomach bug to fatal injuries, ER nurses see it all.
The number of patients they interact with and treat changes on any given shift. It could be as few as just 3, it could be as busy as 100. It just depends on where you work and what happens that day.
The goal of an ER nurse is to stabilize and move patients to where they need to be – whether that is admitting them to the hospital or sending them home.
That means an ER Nurse has a wide variety of job duties. This can include any of the following:
- Communicate with family members and physicians
- Monitor health conditions
- Recommend future patient care (hospital admittance or treating and going home)
- Administer medications
- Respond to codes
- Prioritize care – discern which patients need to be seen soonest
- Charting care and actions taken
In fact, on any given shift, an ER nurse’s job will vary and change. And if day shift in the ER is busy, night shift nursing is a whole other beast.
How To Choose Whether to Be an ICU Nurse or ER Nurse
Now that you know what they do, how do you choose which one to go after? Both of them are adrenaline-pumping and keep you on your toes, but for different reasons.
If You Prefer Organization and Reliable Methods, Choose ICU Nurse
Since patients in the ICU require a high-level of care, the exact duties and responsibilities of an ICU nurse are always going to be the same. They have to pay attention to so much detail that every single duty has a clear process and exact steps to follow.
ICU nurses tend to be type-A personalities. They are organized, pay close attention to detail, and are able to remember important information quickly.
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If You Prefer Variety, Choose ER Nurse
On the flip side, if you think variety is the spice of life, the ER might be the perfect place for you. You never know what you are going to experience that shift. It could be quiet and you might be lucky to catch your breath.
ER Nursing requires lots of energy and quick-thinking. It also demands a strong personality, since you’ll have to make tough decisions. ER nurses interact with a wide variety of people and physicians, so you have to have strong communication skills.
ICU Nursing and ER Nursing
Both of these nurses require a lot of heart. No matter which one you choose, you’ll feel drained at the end of your shift. Neither one is more important than the other one. Both play imperative roles in helping people when they need it most.
Just started in the ICU and want to feel more confident? Perhaps you’ve been working in the ICU for years and just want to top off your knowledge? Or maybe you’re interested in a specialty change and ICU sounds exciting. If you’ve answered YES to any of these, Breakthrough ICU is for you!
Keep Learning: More About the ICU and ER
Now that you know more about either the ICU nurse or ER nurse, here are some articles you’ll definitely find interesting too.
Cute ICU Nurse Squad Intensive Care Unit T-ShirtMarino’s The ICU Book: Print + Ebook with Updates (ICU Book (Marino))Fast Facts for the ER Nurse, Third Edition: Emergency Department Orientation in a NutshellEDRN Emergency Room ER ED Registered Nurse T-Shirt