Traits of RNs that thrive in ICU

Specialties MICU


What type of personality or other traits fit ICU nurses? What do you consider is needed to not only survive, but thrive in ICU?


195 Posts

I'm interested to hear what experienced nurses have to say on this topic as well. I'm a new RN, and start in a NICU very soon.

My complex med-surg professor, who was an ICU nurse for many years, told me that control-freaks make good ICU nurses.

shoegalRN, RN

1,338 Posts

I, too, am interested in hearing what the experienced nurses have to say. I am a new RN, starting off in the ICU and been told by several nurses I should consider working in the ICU due to my "personality". I am a structured person, I pay close attention to detail, I ask lots of questions, and I like to try to "figure things out" and put the pieces together. Don't know if these things will help me in the ICU, but I'm curious to find out.

Specializes in Neuro.

Traits I have seen:









Type A



274 Posts

can we add mavricky to the list? LOL

thanks for the list!


5 Posts

I've worked ICU for two and a half years and there are a few attributes that help to have. A little type A/OCD is needed, if you don't have organization, neatness and control as a priority then if a code happens you will be scrambling to control the room and find the necessary items to run a successful (successful doesn't always mean the patient lives) code. Communication skills to talk to family help, remember 1 in 5 don't make it out alive from ICU, you don't want to tell family members, "Well, your family member is toast!".:rolleyes: Many times it's family you are talking to, not the patient! Advocating for the patient is especially important--you may be the only person between a doctor doing something dangerous to the patient. I've had doctors (read residents) leave a page of orders and the patient is allergic to some of the meds, or not addressing an obvious need of a patient like a potassium of 3.1. A sense of humor is a good thing because in some situations what else can you do but laugh? Being grouchy won't fix it because many times in ICU it's not "fixable". Flexibility is a must because anything can happen, I work in an ICU that does everything--surgical, cardiac, trauma, neuro to name a few. Be ready for anything! I'm sure there's more, but those attributes a good start!:nurse: Good luck to all the new nurses, you can do it!!:bow:


Where to begin...I've been an ICU nurse for over 12 yrs now-occasional ED just to slow things down (jk ED RN's:heartbeat). Should have super anal organizational skills, a deep understanding of pathophysiology--this is to agree/disagree with the docs over what drug and or tx is best and KNOW what you're takling about:yeah:. Compassion is absolutely necessary because we mostly have to handle the family during the pt's crisis. Type A personality is not necessary but most type A's go to ICU, ED, or cardiac units. (we become our own pts too :D)

There are lots more--but it's report time now so gotta go!:redbeathe

Specializes in PICU/NICU.

I totally agree with the other posters on many qualities.

- absolutely need a completely organized(almost anal) personality- BTW I only exhibit this behavior at work! ( I can leave dishes in the sink over night- but I HATE to have my lines all crossed together like spagetti!)

-Need to be assertive and not be afraid to advocate for your pt/family even if it is something that goes against what the intensivist has currently ordered.

- A true understanding of pathophysiology and how it pertains to your patient

- not afraid to ask questions to docs or co-workers(we literally learn something new almost every day)

- good sense of humor, thick skin, compassion, and forgiveness.... most of the family members you will encounter are going through the worst and most frightening experience of their lifetime( they will exhibit those "phases of grief" right before your eyes).

- the ability to not take your work home- no matter if you are in trauma ICU, SICU, PICU, or NICU... you will experience things that make you question the meaning of life... you must be able to go home at the end of the day and appreciate your own blessings of life and leave work at work!

I truly believe that ICU nurses are a special breed:yeah::yeah::yeah:!!! I may be a little bias?????:nurse:

Specializes in Case Mgmt, Anesthesia, ICU, ER, Dialysis.

Absolutely agree with everyone else up there! Great suggestions!

My list:

1) The ability to relate to everyone, in all walks of life, whether it be families or other people working with you in the hospital. Nobody is any better than anybody else, and we all have a job to do - different, but equally important.

2) No judgement. You will see people on drugs, drunk, in very "Jerry-Springer-esque" judgement, at least on the outside. You can absolutely have your opinion, but your life will be much easier if you learn to MYOB and keep your mouth shut.

3) Along the lines of keeping your mouth shut, yeah...learn that one REAL well. You don't know who knows who, and critical care is a small world.

4) A hunger to study and those pathophys texts. Join your professional organization and certify in your specialty. The process empowers you with knowledge that will add to your professional credibility and make you ever so much marketable as an RN. :)

5) COMPLETELY AGREE with those who said you have to be anal and OCD. I don't care that the tech told you those restraints were tied on the vented patient - it will be YOUR butt with the incident report on file if they extubate themselves! Keep your rooms stocked, and constantly be thinking through what the worst care scenario would be for any given situation, and how you would handle it. People in my care have lived because I practice Murphy's Law of Nursing:

"If it CAN happen, it WILL, and it will happen to one of MY patients!"

I was prepared, and disaster was averted.

6) A little paranoia isn't a bad thing, either...double checking behind doctors who tell you they'll write your orders for everything they just told you to do, pharmacy personnel who promise you they stocked your stat (inserturgentmedhere) dose in the patient-specific bin...

You learn who you can and can't trust, but as much as I love some of my coworkers, and think they are fabulous nurses, there are still some things I must see with my own eyes.

7) The ability to be flexible and roll with the an extent. There's a fine line between being a doormat and being a team player. If you can find that line, you'll be doing well. You're always being a patient advocate when you fight admissions that will put you over the comfort level and skill set of your current patient acuity mix.

Good luck, y'all.

Much love,

A neuro and trauma ICU nurse who didn't think she could do it either when she was first hired

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