I can only speak to conditions/pay at Piedmont, and the Critical Care Program at that - they only hire new graduates into their residency program which is described in detail on their website. Side note, they also hire nurses with experience who work on other floors who want to transfer into one of the ICUs, so it is not all new graduates in the program.
The Critical Care Program is five months long and involves rotation through five ICUs so you are able to gain experience in both Med/Surg ICUs and Cardiac ICUs. The preceptors are great, nearly all of them have been through the residency themselves (the program has been around for a long time!). Most nurses and I'd say ALL of the charge nurses are awesome and very supportive and available, in addition to your preceptor. You start just taking one patient and work up to taking two as you progress through the program. About half way through your five months of orientation you'll find out what unit you are going to be placed on - everyone starts on the night shift. The starting pay is $23.22, plus differentials (evening - $3.50, night - $4.50, weekend $2.94), which I think is probably near the top for Atlanta-area hospitals.
There are mini classes taught by MDs about common conditions seen in the ICU - ARDS, shock, sepsis, etc. They are great for getting up to speed on the rationale behind all of the protocols that are followed for treatment of these conditions. They also allow you to get to know the MDs a little better. I'd also like to mention that Piedmont utilizes an 'intensivist' approach in the ICU - they have an adequate, dedicated staff of critical care physicians and mid-levels that are available and on-site 24-7. Since I've never worked at another ICU I'm not sure if this is a common practice, but it makes getting someone to see your patient or getting orders pretty easy.
The program also requires completion of ECCO ( ECCO ), which is a comprehensive body-system-based review of anatomy and pathophysiology of common ICU issues. It was developed by the AACN, is computer based, and is worth a whopping 90-some hours of CE credits - and no it didn't take me 90 hours to complete but it did take about 2 months - it is definitely an endeavor.
Overall, I am very happy with Piedmont and the Residency program - it isn't easy and the expectations are very high, but there are a lot of resources to take advantage of if you have the motivation and the time to put into it.