What is a PICU Nurse? (2023)

A PICU nurse, or a pediatric ICU nurse, is a critical care nurse who specializes in caring for critically ill infants, children, and teenagers in a pediatric intensive care unit. These nurses are experts at providing compassionate nursing care to the very sickest children, combining a deep understanding of physiology, keen observation, and top-notch technical skills with advanced and cutting-edge treatments.

What does a PICU Nurse Do?

A PICU nurse works in a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), where they care for children who are sicker and require more frequent observation, nursing care, and intervention than those on a general pediatric unit. The responsibilities of a PICU nurse include:

  • Performing in-depth assessments specific to critically ill children.
  • Administering a wide range of life-saving medications.
  • Obtaining frequent blood work and trending lab results.
  • Alerting the PICU care team to both subtle and significant changes.
  • Providing education to children and families.
  • Responding to emergencies, performing CPR, and resuscitating children who have stopped breathing or lost a pulse.
  • Managing PICU-specific equipment such as ventilators, dialysis machines, or ECMO circuits.

Skills Required for a PICU Nurse

PICU nurses possess a highly specialized skill set to care for critically ill children. Some of the essential skills and qualities of a PICU nurse include:

  • Keen observation: PICU nurses constantly trend and evaluate how their patients respond to medications, procedures, and interventions.
  • Pediatric-specific medication administration: PICU nurses are skilled at calculating and administering pediatric-specific doses of medications, including life-saving emergency medications.
  • Technical proficiency: PICU nurses have rock-solid technical skills, including placing IVs on the sickest and tiniest patients.
  • Calm under pressure: PICU nurses remain composed and focused in intense situations, effectively guiding their young patients and families through challenging and life-threatening situations.

Work Settings for PICU Nurses

PICU nurses typically work in pediatric intensive care units, which are commonly located in children's hospitals, large medical centers, or academic teaching facilities. Some larger medical centers may have specialized PICUs, such as pediatric cardiac intensive care units (PCICUs), which care for children with heart conditions requiring specialized surgeries or interventions. Additionally, some PICU nurses receive specialized training to work on pediatric critical care transport teams, where they transport critically ill children in ambulances, helicopters, or fixed-wing airplanes to facilities that can provide specialized care.

Common Cases PICU Nurses Encounter

PICU nurses encounter a wide range of medical conditions in their practice. When patients require PICU care, they are sicker and need closer attention and care than what is provided in a general pediatric unit. Some of the most common diagnoses in the PICU include:

  • Medical: Respiratory infections, complications from sepsis and septic shock, seizures, dehydration, diabetes, and cancer.
  • Surgical and Trauma: Specialized or complicated surgeries, traumatic accidents, and injuries.
  • Cardiac: Repair and management of heart conditions that children were born with or developed, often requiring specialized cardiac surgeries or interventions.
  • Others: Pediatric transplants (heart, lung, liver, kidneys), psychiatric crises.

How to Become a PICU Nurse

To become a PICU nurse, you will need to complete an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. After completing your degree, you will need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam and apply for your RN license. Once you have your license, you can apply to work in a pediatric setting in a hospital. Many PICUs provide specialized training programs that allow new graduate nurses to begin working directly in a PICU. Some PICUs may require previous pediatric experience before starting a career in the PICU. Continuing education and seeking learning opportunities are also important for further developing PICU skills.

Advancing Your Career as a PICU Nurse

PICU nurses can advance their careers by obtaining advanced nursing degrees, such as a master's or doctoral degree with a pediatric focus. With an advanced degree, PICU nurses can pursue roles such as Acute Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (ACPNP), PICU clinical nurse specialist (CNS), PICU nurse manager, or PICU nurse educator. Additionally, there are options to advance without an advanced degree, such as becoming a critical care transport nurse or obtaining certifications in more advanced PICU technologies. Some certifications that PICU nurses may consider include Pediatric CCRN (Pediatric Critical Care RN Certification), Pediatric Care After Resuscitation (PCAR), and Trauma Nursing Core Course (TNCC).

Average Salary for PICU Nurses

The salary of PICU nurses can vary depending on factors such as location, experience, and specialization. According to Salary.com, PICU nurses make between $64,896 and $93,252, with a median salary of $80,019. It's important to note that PICU nurses who choose to specialize further, work as travel nurses, or obtain advanced degrees can earn substantially more. Salary ranges for nurses can also vary by location, with states like California, Hawaii, and Oregon offering higher pay compared to states like South Dakota, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Specialty Organizations & Communities

PICU nurses can benefit from joining specialty organizations and communities that provide resources, support, and networking opportunities. Two notable organizations in this field are the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN) and the Society of Pediatric Cardiac Nurses (SPCN).

Ideal Personality Traits for PICU Nurses

PICU nurses possess certain personality traits that contribute to their success in this challenging field. Some of the ideal personality traits for PICU nurses include:

  • Love for children: PICU nurses have a genuine love for and ability to relate well to children and their parents.
  • Attention to detail: Excellent attention to detail and observation skills are crucial for monitoring patients' conditions and responses to treatments.
  • Calm under pressure: PICU nurses thrive in intense situations and can rise to the occasion under stress.
  • Meaningful impact: PICU nurses find fulfillment in making a meaningful impact on the lives of critically ill patients and their families.

In conclusion, being a PICU nurse requires specialized skills, compassion, and the ability to provide critical care to the sickest children. These nurses play a vital role in the pediatric intensive care unit, providing expert nursing care, support to patients and families, and making a positive impact every day they go to work .

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