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Quick Survival Guide: ICU Edition

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Quick Survival Guide: ICU Edition

Quick Survival Guide: ICU Edition

Each unit in the hospital is its own jungle. They are each special in their own way, and therefore each tortuous in their own way! We’re mostly kidding…

In all seriousness – are you floating to the ICU next week? Starting a new position in intensive care? Just want to brush up on your skills? We want to help you be as prepared as possible. We’ve put together a quick survival guide to get you through the Intensive Care Unit; one of the most adrenaline-inducing jungles!

Be Teachable

● There is little room for mistakes when things are life or death, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. But when you do ask for help, don’t make them do it for you. After all, it will stick better for next time if you do it yourself with instruction and supervision from them.

● Don’t worry about being a nuisance, there are plenty of more experienced nurses who won’t mind teaching you.

● Give back and teach someone else if and when you can. We all have a different skill set!

Time Management

● Time management begins in your reporting; first, take mental notes of what is needed immediately after shift change.

Pro tip: Find a report sheet that organizes your most important things for you by time slots!

● See what medication schedules line up with your other orders and handle them at the same time.

● Anytime you walk into the room, maximize your time by doing all that you can while you’re in there. For example perform your 9 a.m. medications, 9 a.m. assessment, 9 a.m. repositioning, 9 a.m. vitals, and check all pumps/alarms within the same time while there!

Quick Survival Guide: ICU Edition


● If you have extra critical patients cannot get everything done, remember it is okay to ask someone to do some tasks for you! Just don’t be the person that gives all of your work away.

● Do the most critical and time-consuming things yourself, and recruit help for the easier and less draining tasks.

● Remember: If you have extra time, help someone else!

Quick Survival Guide: ICU Edition


● The hallmark of an ICU is the symphony of alarms going off at any given time. It can be overwhelming. Take a deep breath.

● There are going to be alarms from the vitals monitor, pump alarms, and maybe even bed alarms. Obviously, they are each important; but an alarm indicating that your patient is going into V-tach is going to be way more important than the saline drip that has stopped due to air in the line. Know your alarms, and prioritize them! It will keep your patients safe and your mind sane!

Pro tip: When you come onto shift, look at all of the parameters on the alarms and make sure they are set properly. If they aren’t correctly set, they will go off too often, or worse, they won’t go off when you need them.

Self Care

● Take time for yourself! Trust us, burnout is real!

● Rough night? Remember to ask for help, even if it’s personal. For example, see if the charge nurse can watch your patient while you get a bite to eat .

and refresh

● Take time to relax and enjoy your scheduled days off, even if only for a moment!

● We all need time to rest and with the added stresses and adrenaline of the ICU, your body and mind will need it just a bit more. Don’t forget to prioritize your health and wellness.


Quick Survival Guide: ICU Edition

And if there is any one thing to remember to survive the ICU: Help others and they will help you… techs and CNA’s included!

Do you have any tips or tricks for the ICU? We’d love to hear them! Join the conversation on Facebook!






Katelyn Johnson

Katelyn Johnson


Katelyn has a Master’s in Healthcare Administration and five years of clinical experience. She has made the shift to full-time freelance writing and enjoys covering topics on nursing careers, lifestyle, and community. Her goal is to help start a conversation and spread awareness around the many ups and downs of the healthcare field.


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