ICU Nurse

Working in critical care nursing, Ines builds strong relationships with her patients and their families. She says a genuine care for others is vital for nurses – as is a proactive approach to learning.

My name is Ines, and my job sees me looking after very sick patients, usually from theatre or emergency, helping to support their organs until we can treat their condition.

I always felt a calling to become a nurse. From when I was just a child, I always felt like I wanted to help others. It was very natural, and as I grew older, it just started making sense. This is what I was meant to do. A turning point for me was when, in my first year of study, a good friend’s mother was diagnosed with end-stage terminal cancer. She looked to me for support, and I just felt powerless. I wanted to be able to know more, to do more, and to really help. That’s when I knew I wanted to go all the way – to further my study and really make a difference.

My favourite part of my job is the contact I have with patients. I work in critical care, so a lot of the patients I care for are very, very sick, and there’s always a chance they will not recover, so it is a very rewarding part of the job to get to help them return to their normal life again. To be a nurse, you actually need to care about others and truly care about helping people to get well. It’s beautiful when you can first see someone in a critical condition, and just a few weeks later see them doing much better and know your efforts and care have helped. There are some truly amazing moments. For example, I’ve cared for someone fully sedated for days at a time, and found that when they’ve woken up, they can remember my presence. They remembered my voice and thanked me for being there. Seeing near-critical patients make remarkable recoveries will always be amazing.

In my career so far, I’ve experienced a lot. Good or bad, all situations help you grow, and I continue to learn every day. In the intensive care unit, I often care for patients one to one. It’s very personal, and you can build very close relationships with patients, but also their families, who frequently visit and turn to us for information and help. So, another key part of the job becomes trying to give courage and support to my patients’ loved ones. There are of course tough times – especially with critical patients, and in the harder moments, you have to try to be strong for the family members, to give all that you have.

There are some truly amazing moments. For example, I’ve cared for someone fully sedated for days at a time, and found that when they’ve woken up, they can remember my presence.

But then you have the good times – when a patient’s likelihood of survival may be quite low, but they surprise you. Seeing critical patients take a turn for the better and do well is truly amazing. A recent example that comes to mind is a patient I had, who came into hospital suffering a cardiac arrest. They had a huge downtime of 45 minutes – this is critical, and meant that the patient may have died, but instead, within two weeks, they were walking around, talking to us, having made a remarkable recovery. Moments like that are just beautiful.

A highlight over the years has been the colleagues I’ve worked with. It’s so important to have a good team who all support each other. I can always feel like someone has my back – after all, no one knows everything, you’re not going to have all the answers all the time, so knowing I have people around me that I can turn to for advice means a lot. I especially like that with the doctors I work with. There’s a feeling that there can truly be no stupid questions. We can talk one to one, and I’m always comfortable to ask their opinion or to question why they are doing something. They take the time to offer help and support, and explain things, so I can continue to learn every day.

As a general ward nurse, a typical day will start with a handover for all of the patients on your ward – even if you have your patients assigned, it’s really important to know how many patients are hospitalised in your unit. You also need to have a clear idea of what’s going on, from the very beginning of your shift, because you never know what can happen. You would then do bedside handover, and then assess your patients’ vital signs, presenting yourself to your patients and letting them know you’ll be looking after them that shift. You would then organise your day. You make a plan for the day, getting a clear idea of what will need to be done, when, and then your day is spent caring for your patients, and working together with the rest of your team to ensure everyone in the ward is looked after.

I think all nurses should choose a specialty, choose a calling that best speaks to their skills and interest areas, to help them to be the best professional they can be.

To become a nurse, some key qualities stand out across all nursing specialties. It seems obvious, but most importantly, you need to care about others. When you have this basic calling, and basic care for other people and their wellbeing, from there you can build the other skills required to make a great nurse. I think it is important to be a good team player, because ultimately, if you’re a person that’s pleasant and is good to work with, your work environment with your colleagues will be that much better. People will be happy to be around you, happy to work with you, and you’ll be able to support each other and turn to each other for help.

You also need to be proactive, even after your studies. When you finish your bachelors, your colleagues will of course expect you to know a great deal, so it’s important to keep yourself interested, to keep yourself up to date. Being proactive, constantly reading, following journal articles, seeking out the latest research and doing evidence-based practice are a big part of good nursing. Staying proactive in keeping your knowledge base up to date helps you be a reliable nurse, and helps you avoid making mistakes – failing to stay active like this could really have a very negative impact on the patient so it's an important part of the job for any type of nurse. You need to make sure you have a deep knowledge of what you’re doing. That's why I think all nurses should choose a specialty, choose a calling that best speaks to their skills and interest areas, to help them to be the best professional they can be.

I also think we need to keep encouraging and developing critical thinking more in our younger nurses. As nurses, we shouldn’t do things just because someone has told us to – but instead, we should learn early to know the ‘why’. We should learn to do things because we know why they need to be done. That way, if something happens or goes wrong as a result of a decision we have made, we’ll know exactly how to correct it, or what to do in response.

Being a nurse is about more than just care – you need to have the deep, always-changing knowledge to support your skills. We always need to know what we’re doing, because we’re dealing with life. Having a deeper, more specialised knowledge will certainly help improve your patients’ outcomes and help you to improve as a nurse in general. Even beyond the patients, choosing to specialise can be professionally wise. It’s a good way to move forward in your career.

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