What role do nurses play in the intensive care unit (ICU)?

The role of the nurses in the intensive care unit (ICU) is to run blood tests, give medicines, change the patients' position to make them more comfortable, bathe them, brush their teeth if they can't do it themselves, and other things. Each person in the ICU has a nurse who just looks after him or her.

ICU nurses can administer sedatives, which are medicines to help people sleep, and painkillers to take away any pain. Nurses will give the right amount of medicines so that people in the ICU are as comfortable as possible.

Joane Goodroe
Nursing Specialist

Nurses are trained to administer emergency care in all areas including the ICU (intensive care unit). The first thing nurses will do is make sure the patient is able to get air into their lungs. Nurses will start chest compressions if the heart stops. Critical care certified nurses will also follow protocols that physicians have approved to give certain medicines. Hospitals will have a special team on each shift that will assist with any emergency situation in the hospital. This assures that all patients receive the best care during an emergency.

Dr. Cathy Provins-Churbock, PhD
Critical Care Medicine Specialist

Nurses in the ICU administer emergency care as needed. For example, if someone stops breathing, they administer artificial respirations. This is just one example of what might be considered emergency care.

Joan Connors
Nursing Specialist

The nurse plays a very important role within the critical care setting. Much of the care delivered while the patient is in the intensive care unit, will be delivered by a nurse. Nurses assess patients and report that their findings to coordinate care. Nurses also recommend changes that impact patients, provide for patients needs, administer medications and prescribed treatments. Evaluation of the patient is a large part of the nurses role.       

Linda Martinez
Cardiac Rehabilitation Specialist

The nurse on the critical care team plays a crucial and vital role in the care of a critically ill person. The nurse needs additional education in critical care nursing to care for patients in a critical care environment.  The nurse's job is to carry out treatment orders, prevent complications, serve as advocate for patient and family and is that person who keeps the physician informed in any change in condition. In the typical ICU setting, the nurse usually has one to two patients. These patients often have specialized monitoring equipment, intravenous medication and ventilators to assist breathing. Often the patients are on heavy sedation or unconscious. It is up to the nurse to provide for every need of the patient in addtion to medical treatment such as bathing, feeding brushing teeth, turning, etc.

Continue Learning about Critical Care

Does Your ER Make the Grade? How the U.S. Rates
Does Your ER Make the Grade? How the U.S. Rates
If you have an emergency, you assume that your 911 services and ER will be ready to take care of you, right?  But what if they aren’t? Unfortunately,...
Read More
Should I call my pediatrician if we have to go to the emergency room (ER)?
The answer should be an unequivocal yes—or you need a new pediatrician. Maybe you’ll find out the tr...
More Answers
7 Dangerous Emergency Surgeries
7 Dangerous Emergency Surgeries7 Dangerous Emergency Surgeries7 Dangerous Emergency Surgeries7 Dangerous Emergency Surgeries
Some of the most common emergency surgeries can also be the riskiest.
Start Slideshow
What Can I Expect in Critical Care?
What Can I Expect in Critical Care?

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.