Joyce Park, an ICU nurse at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, was on her way home from a family dinner at a restaurant in Closter when a vehicle two cars ahead of hers began zigzagging across the road.
Park watched as the car swerved off the right side of the road, struck a utility pole, and told her husband to stop their car so she could rush to the wrecked vehicle. “I just knew something was wrong, so I ran over there,” she says.
Park Was At the Right Place at the Right Time
Park found the driver, an 80-year-old man, unconscious. Closter police said he suffered a cardiac event and was going into a seizure.
Park’s husband helped get the victim out of the car and onto the ground, and she found the man had no pulse, as the victim’s wife was frantically yelling for help.
The 35-year-old nurse’s training kicked in. She methodically began performing CPR on the victim. Her chest compressions were successful, and she resuscitated him after about 30 seconds.
“Then he came back to life,” she says. “He woke up screaming, ‘I’m OK, I’m OK. ’” Park continued to check his vital signs as the police arrived.
Daily Nurse is proud to honor Park as the Nurse of the Week for her ability to act quickly, relying on her nurse’s training to perform this life-saving procedure and help save this man’s life.
While waiting for the paramedics, Park learned the man had just celebrated his 80th birthday at a restaurant — not far from where she and her family had dined that evening. The man was conscious, alert, and well. He was taken by ambulance to nearby Englewood Hospital.
Park says she has resuscitated patients multiple times during her seven years as a nurse but never in an everyday situation like the one she encountered this evening.
“The setting was different, but this is what we do, saving people’s lives at the hospital,” Park says.
Mark Sparta, president of Hackensack University Medical Center, says he wasn’t surprised Park jumped into action at the scene.
“That life-saving procedure might not have occurred if Joyce had not been in the right place at the right time,” Sparta says. “We are grateful for all Joyce does for our community — inside and outside our hospital walls.”
Nominate a Nurse of the Week! Every Wednesday, DailyNurse.com features a nurse making a difference in the lives of their patients, students, and colleagues. We encourage you to nominate a nurse who has impacted your life as the next Nurse of the Week, and we’ll feature them online and in our weekly newsletter.
An outgoing nature, a desire to act as a patient advocate, and a willingness to function outside your comfort zone are among the attributes you need to be a successful surgical intensive care nurse.
So says Kristina Massey, BSN, RN, CCRN-CSC, ECMO specialist and nursing unit director, cardiac surgery ICU/cardiac flex team at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital Cardiovascular Institute in Roanoke, VA.
Nurses considering this role will find high demand, as surgical intensive care nurses joined the list of the 25 top roles growing in demand this year, according to LinkedIn Jobs on the Rise 2022. These nurses, according to the LinkedIn report, care for patients who are critically ill after surgery, usually following complex procedures such as open heart surgery.
The surgical intensive care unit can be a “very overwhelming environment,” says Massey, who has been the unit director since 2009, and an ECMO specialist since 2012. Nurses in the surgical ICU, she notes, need to be able to go out on a limb or outside their comfort zone to approach a surgeon or provider if something isn’t right.
Her unit also includes nurses who want to grow into more advanced roles, such as CRNA or NP. “I would rather have someone who is highly functional, who is always looking to increase their education and skill set, even if that only means having them for a few years,” she says.
As the unit director, Massey leads 70 staff members, including RNs, LPNs, and nursing assistants. In her 11-bed unit, she focuses mainly on day-to-day operations, such as patient throughput and determining what patients can move to a step-down unit or who needs to do a lateral transfer to another ICU.
She also ensures that she has the right mix of nurses with the skills to care for the current acuity in her ICU. She can also be a bedside nurse, for instance, in an emergency.
Patients come to her unit only for cardiothoracic intensive care. Patients who had open heart surgery, she notes, come directly to her ICU, not a PACU or recovery unit. Her nurses work as a team with respiratory therapists to extubate the patients.
Experience a Plus
When Massey needs to hire a nurse for her unit, she prefers nurses with a BSN degree. If the nurse is a new grad, she wants to see healthcare experience, such as working as a nursing assistant in a hospital or having an EMS background. She will hire associate degree nurses based on their experience. For instance, in May, she hired an associate degree RN who had worked under her as a nursing assistant for three years. Another associate degree nurse she hired had worked as a paramedic before attending nursing school.
“Our ICU is a very high-acuity ICU, and we see a lot of incredibly sick patients,” says Massey. So having this prior medical experience “helps with their transition into the ICU.”
Massey’s interest in the surgical ICU started in nursing school during a rotation through the cardiac surgery operating room. There, she observed a patient undergoing open heart surgery and followed that patient through the ICU and the recovery process, including extubation. “I was very fascinated by what the ICU nurse was doing in the room that day. And I knew that I eventually wanted to end up in the ICU.”
Before joining the surgical ICU, she worked in the cardiac surgery step-down unit for about three and a half years. She joined the surgical ICU as a staff nurse in 2004, was promoted to preceptor, then clinical team lead, and ultimately became unit director in 2009.
Setting the Direction
For nurses interested in joining a surgical ICU, “if you know that’s what you want to do, you need to set yourself up in the right direction,” she notes. “Contact people who can help you get the position you want. If that means applying for a role as a patient care tech or a nursing assistant in the surgical ICU that you want to be in, do it while you’re in nursing school. It will help that staff get to know you and be your advocate when you graduate nursing school.”
“If you spend time on that unit, reach out to the unit director and let them know that this is something that you’re very interested in and ask what their recommendations are. Then, when they request the ICU, I’ve had many students make sure I know who they are. They seek out experiences, make themselves available to staff, and show interest.”
Learning Never Stops
Once you’re working in a surgical ICU, keep learning, Massey says. “Continue to expand your knowledge and grow yourself professionally,” perhaps through certification or becoming an ECMO specialist like her. “It helps with that validation of knowledge, and it will only elevate your profession and skill set if you continue to explore growth opportunities.”
When Dilon Petersen graduated from the UNLV School of Nursing in August, he became the third member of his family to do so. Dilon’s father and grandmother are both UNLV School of Nursing alumni and share an affinity for nursing that has persisted from one generation to the next. And we’re thrilled to name Peterson, a third-generation nurse, our Nurse of the Week.
Petersen’s family inspired his interest in nursing, but he took an unconventional route to get there.
Path to Nursing School
Before nursing school, Petersen worked casino security for six years and spent eight years in the Marines as a reserve. He began nursing school in spring 2021 during the pandemic, which only empowered him. “It was inspiring seeing how I could actually get out and help,” he says. It made me wish I did this sooner, just so I could be in the hospitals, helping those patients and those families recover.”
Like his dad, Robert Petersen, BSN, RN, ’08, Peterson enrolled as an older student (29 years old), and similar to Robert, that previous life experience was an asset. “The time management was a huge one that helped,” he says. “I led a squad of Marines, which gave me insight on how to be a good leader and help my fellow classmates.”
And like his dad, classmates would seek out his help during clinicals. “Other students will ask me to ask questions or go up to somebody because they’re scared or nervous to talk to another nurse.” But Petersen says he tried to turn that attention back to the faculty. “I feel some of my life experience has given me insight that they’re here to teach us, and they’re here for our learning,” he says. “You should not be scared to go up and talk to them.”
Petersen credits his father and grandmother, Sherry Therrien, MSN, RN, ’76, ’87, ’93, for clarifying certain concepts. “They helped with my care plans, formulating nursing interventions and rationales between abnormal lab values,” he says. “If I couldn’t quite figure it out or put it, they would break it down and explain it to me. I feel that helped me understand why. The next time I saw it, I had a better understanding of what was going on with the patient.”
Petersen’s Plans for His Nursing Future
He plans to stay in Southern Nevada, working in the ICU before eventually trying out travel nursing. “I’ve traveled to a few places, but I haven’t seen a lot outside, so it’d be nice to be able to travel and see different states,” he says.
Representing the next generation of nurses in the Peterson household gives him a strong sense of pride. “It’s a lot of work to get through nursing school, and just the fact that I’m able to follow in my family’s footsteps and uphold that tradition, it feels good,” he says. “It wasn’t something I knew if I was gonna do, I’d say four, five years ago. I didn’t think I was gonna be going down this path. I’m lucky I have a supporting family that could help me through nursing school, and I’m thankful for them.”
Representing the next generation of nurses in the Peterson household gives Dilon a strong sense of pride. “It’s a lot of work to get through nursing school, and just the fact that I’m able to follow in my family’s footsteps and uphold that tradition, it feels good,” he says. “It wasn’t something I knew if I was gonna do, I’d say four, five years ago. I didn’t think I was gonna be going down this path. I’m lucky I have a supporting family that could help me through nursing school, and I’m thankful for them.”
Nominate a Nurse of the Week! Every Wednesday, DailyNurse.com features a nurse making a difference in the lives of their patients, students, and colleagues. We encourage you to nominate a nurse who has impacted your life and as the next Nurse of the Week, and we’ll feature them online and in our weekly newsletter.
While you may have heard about what it’s like to work as a travel nurse, have you ever thought about travel nurses who work in the ICU?
Daisy Award-winner Deji “DJ” Folami, RN is an ICU registered nurse from Oklahoma with Cross Country Healthcare, who specializes in critical care nursing and travel nursing. He told us what it’s like to work as a travel ICU nurse—and why he loves doing it. What follows is our interview, edited for length and clarity.
“I was just simply blown away by their [ICU travel nurses] level of confidence, their can-do and go-getter attitude, and their all-around knowledge, that the motivation to explore travel nursing came easily.”
DailyNurse: How did you get interested in being a travel nurse—especially one working in ICU?
DJ Folani: I joined ICU nursing after one year of being a Med-Surg nurse because I was fascinated by the skills and organization of the code team. Same degree, just higher levels of training and knowledge. After one year in ICU, I met a few travel nurses. I was just simply blown away by their level of confidence, their can-do and go-getter attitude, and their all-around knowledge, that the motivation to explore travel nursing came easily. In 2016, I started my journey as a travel or contract nurse, and I have never looked back since.
Explain to me briefly what a travel nurse specializing in ICU does? How long do you tend to work in any one facility?
A travel nurse must be an experienced and adaptable person. However, a travel nurse who specializes in ICU is expected to be dynamic and ready to meet challenges when circumstances change.
For example, most ICU travel nurses specialize in medical-surgical ICU but may be asked to float to a cardiovascular or neuro ICU to take care of patients within their scope. Simply put—same skill set, different unit or different protocols.
Typically, a travel nurse works as a contract employee at a facility. Each contract can be a period of 8 to 26 weeks, renewable up to one year. After that one year is up, a break is required up to 30 days, depending on state laws. If the facility wants to continue with the nurse, they will offer to renew the contract.
How and why did you get into becoming a travel nurse? Did you have to sign up with one specific business that places travel nurses? Are ICU travel nurses in high demand?
I was satisfied being an ICU nurse, but I was not content with the knowledge I had acquired. I wanted to impact the world beyond my residential city. I love meeting people. Therefore, I pushed myself to follow up on a referral made by another experienced travel nurse I had spoken with. The recruiter asked questions about my interests, specialty, etc. While awaiting offers, I called and spoke with other travel agencies to compare my preferred assignment, convenience, and of course salary rates.
Yes! Travel nurses are in high demand. An ICU travel nurse with experience in complex critical interventions such as continuous renal replacement therapy (CRRT), hypothermia protocol (Arctic Sun), and certifications such as critical care registered nurse (CCRN), etc., are in high demand.
What do you like most about working as a travel nurse?
Every facility has its own unique way of carrying out nursing processes. I love learning new ways of doing the same thing. These new experiences add to my wealth of knowledge.
What are the biggest challenges you face in travel nursing?
Finding a suitable accommodation. A comfortable and affordable place to live while on a travel assignment is vital to my overall well-being. I love to find a place that is close to a gym, a grocery store, and at closest proximity to the hospital.
What are your greatest rewards as one?
New friendships and networking.
Is there anything else that is important for our readers to know?
The key here is to add value to their team and strive to make an impact such that you become an asset and not a liability. I always ask the nurse manager or leaders what ways I could be more useful to their team. Have a positive attitude, rid yourself of trivial complaints. Be a part of the solution you are there to be and have fun while doing it. Blend in quickly and be an important team player. Do this, and you’ll be surprised at how fast the facility will ask you to stay longer with them.
Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurses need a specific skill set to perform their duties well in emergency healthcare. Becoming familiar with the skills necessary is incredibly important when either deciding about pursuing ICU nursing as a career, studying to become one, or already serving in an ICU nurse position.
What Are the 8 Necessary Skills for ICU Nurses?
Nurses serve a few vital purposes within the healthcare setting. They must possess a unique blend of personal “soft skills,” such as compassion and relatability, alongside professional industry knowledge. They need to be able to support medical colleagues in enacting treatment plans as well as interface skillfully with a variety of patient types and needs. The following list includes critical knowhow any ICU nurse needs when serving in the field.
Skill one: A strong base of critical care and life support skills. Triaging patients and knowing the urgency of a patient’s needs at any given time is vital for nurses that work in ICU settings. A healthcare standard that distinguishes four levels of carebased on urgency or situation severity ranges from patient needs that can easily be met in standard healthcare facilities to, at the highest level of urgency, patients that are experiencing respiratory failure or failure within at least two organ systems. ICU nurses must be adept at recognizing a patient’s status and responding appropriately with the correct level of care to stem any possibility that the situation might worsen and instead help those patients move towards increasing levels of stability.
Skill two: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Knowing how to administer CPR and how to recognize when it is necessary is another critical skill for ICU nurses. Because the ICU treats a large percentage of severe or life-threatening conditions, the likelihood of a patient needing CPR is high at any given time. ICU nurses must be able to perform this intervention without mistake or delay.
Skill three: Handling stressful medical emergencies. The ICU is often a high-stress environment. Not all personalities naturally lend themselves to remaining calm and collected in pressured situations. Because the activity in the ICU often involves life and death scenarios and lots of people in high need or stressful states at any given time, it is very important that ICU nurses are able to remain emotionally steady no matter what the circumstances. This is vital for both patients, those patients’ family members and friends, and other staff.
Skill four: A high level of cultural competency. Medical professionals come into contact with people across a wide range of demographics. Many of these include people of different races, cultures, and ethnicities. Cultural competence in nursingrefers to the ability to provide patients with quality medical care while demonstrating astute awareness of their unique cultural values and identity. Cultural identities often include or imply certain beliefs. Nurses that perform this skill well can anticipate how these belief systems may influence that patient’s attitudes, decisions, and behaviors. Culturally competent nurses can also discuss those beliefs with empathy and interest, whether or not they adhere to them personally.
Skill five: Performing a range of diagnostic tests. ICU nurses are often responsible for gathering preliminary data about a patient’s condition, and in many cases quickly, so that the doctors that provide treatment have as strong an understanding as possible about what may be going on. Therefore, ICU nurses need strong knowledge and proficiency in performing diagnostics and testing.
Skill six: Telemetry. Telemetry refers to the process of utilizing a portable device to monitor patient vitals, particularly their heart activity, respiratory rate, and oxygen saturation. Telemetry devices allow a patient to be monitored continuously over a period of time without needing to be restricted by attachment to a bedside cardiac monitor. ICU nurses are often the personnel that attach and manage a patient’s telemetry device. This tool, and the metrics it provides, is vital to making sure a patient’s condition does not worsen (and detecting it immediately if it does).
Skill seven: Administering sedation. This is another technical skill ICU nurses must possess to effectively fulfill their duties. Administering sedation can often become necessary in high-stress situations, and often needs to be performed quickly and accurately to deescalate the scene. ICU nurses are usually the personnel responsible for performing this function.
Skill eight: Quick, adaptable, and calm decision making. ICU nurses are often called upon to make informed decisions about a patient’s care. This can occur in high-intensity situations in which the life of the patient may be at stake and acute care is immediately necessary. ICU nurses must be skilled at making clear-headed decisions and effectively gathering the information they need to make sure they can act in the best manner possible.
How to Develop Your Skills & Continue Advancing Your Education in the Field of Nursing
If you are pursuing, or interested in pursuing, a career in nursing, do your homework. The field is wide and full of options that suit a range of personality types and natural competencies. An important part of determining where in the field of nursing you would most naturally fit and thrive is to understand what’s expected of various nursing roles. ICU nursing may be where you naturally gravitate. And if not, there are plenty of other options or ways to shift your career’s focus to other types of nursing as you go.
Once you’ve determined the nursing career type that would make a probable fit for your needs and aptitudes, spend time researching the best strategy for entering that particular nursing role. There are many ways to enter the field of nursing. Some areas within nursing require more schooling than others or may be benefited by one entrance route over another. Take the time to learn what educational pathway would benefit you most. This will help you ensure that your nursing career is long-lasting and fulfilling.