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Are registered nurses and critical care nurses the same?

Prof. Deborah Hunt
Critical Care Nursing Specialist

In some respects a registered nurse and a critical care nurse are the same because all nurses are prepared to be nurse generalists. So a critical care nurse must first complete his/her basic degree and pass the state licensing exam. Usually a new nurse will start on a basic medical-surgical unit but some hospitals will place a new graduate nurse in a critical care position However, the new nurse will undergo extensive training and mentoring in the care of the critically ill patients. A critical care nurse will still provide basic care but must also be able to assess and interpret things like heart rate and rhythms, respiratory status, and response to critical care medications. They must also be able to care for patients who are very ill. For example:

  • Patients who have had a heart attack
  • Patients who have been involved in a traumatic accident
  • Patients on ventilators
  • Patients who have had complex surgical procedures
  • Patients who have a large amount of bleeding

Critical care nurses work closely with doctors and other health care members in the care of critically ill patients.

Deb Cordes
Deb Cordes on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Specialist

 A registered nurse is a nurse who has obtained either a 2 year ASN degree, 3 year (diploma) or a 4 year BSN degree. A registered nurse can obtain additional training and specialize in a particular area of nursing such as critical care. A critical care nurse is a registered nurse who cares for patients who are very ill and require special attention.

Juliet Wilkinson
Oncology Nursing Specialist

They are as alike as a lion and a tiger. A critical care nurse is a registered nurse -- they belong to the same family. However, a critical care nurse will possess advanced training in caring for critically ill patients with advanced needs. Typically, critical care nurses will complete hospital-based training courses to further refine their skills and direct their knowledge towards caring for the critically ill patient and family. They may also possess advanced certifications above and beyond their registered nurse licensure including advanced cardiac life support provider, or ACLS and the AACN certification for critical care nurses -- CCRN, or critical care registered nurse.

Tameka White
Nursing Specialist

Registered Nurse is the professional Title; the individual is licensed by the state in which he is employed. The critical care nurse title describes the Registered Nurse who is nationally certified by an accreditation board- that states the person is recognized as a Registered Nurse who has specialized training for critical care.

Lisa Moment
Lisa Moment on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Nursing Specialist

Although there are many different specialties in nursing, critical care included, all nurses are registered nurses and are required to pass the same exam to practice as a nurse. Nurses may choose to specialize in an area such as critical care, emergency nursing, medical/surgical, ect. Specializing in an area requires years of experience and possibly passing a certification exam in the specialty area.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.