OK, so you have decided that you are passionate about becoming a critical care nurse.

However, the million-dollar question is…

What is the path to becoming a critical care nurse?

Well, you typically need to be a practicing registered nurse (RN) to become a critical care nurse, for which you need to pass the NCLEX-RN once your nursing education is complete. Depending on the demand for nurses who can provide such critical care, some medical facilities may hire licensed practical nurses (LPNs). So, to become a critical care nurse, you should earn a nursing degree or diploma, gain the required work experience, and pass the licensure examination.

The most widely accepted certification for critical care nurses is CCRN, which is offered by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). To qualify for the CCRN certification, you need to have two years of work experience in caring for patients in critical care and pass the CCRN Test. The certification has to be renewed every three years.


To be eligible to take the CCRN Test, candidates must have an unrestricted/valid RN or APRN license in the United States. Candidates must also meet one of the following clinical requirements in order to take the CCRN test:

  • Option 1: Practice as an RN or APRN for 1,750 hours in direct bedside care of acutely and/or critically ill patients during the previous 2 years, with 875 of those hours accrued in the most recent year preceding application, or
  • Option 2: Practice as an RN or APRN for at least 5 years with a minimum of 2,000 hours in direct bedside care of acutely and/or critically ill patients, with 144 of those hours accrued in the most recent year preceding application.
  • Eligible hours are those spent caring for one patient population (adult, pediatric or neonatal) in alignment with the test for which you are applying.
  • Hours must be completed in a U.S.-based or Canada-based facility or in a facility determined to be comparable to the U.S. standard of acute/critical care nursing practice.

Important Qualities

To be a good critical care or ICU nurse, you need to have the following qualities:

Communication skills. An important part of your job as a critical care nurse is to interact regularly with the patients’ loved ones. In addition, your verbal and non-verbal communication with the patients themselves can have an effect on their recovery or ability to cope with their condition.

Quick assessment. The condition of patients in critical care can undergo drastic changes in a very short period. This makes it important for the nurse to read the signs before conditions worsen.

Decision-making. The quick assessment of a patient’s condition is coupled with the ability to make changes in the treatment procedure accordingly, especially when a doctor is not at hand.

Emotional stability. The mortality rate among critical care patients is naturally higher than other categories of patients. Critical care nurses should be able to deal with losing their patients in a quick and healthy manner.