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So You Think You Are Cut Out for Surgical ICU?

Getting Real: Nursing Today
November 23, 2016
So You Think You Are Cut Out for Surgical ICU?

Lindsay Baumhofer, RN, is a nurse at the surgical intensive care unit (ICU) at Emory Hospital in Atlanta, Ga. A second career nurse, she knew she wanted to jump into nursing with both feet. We talked to Lindsay to discuss her calling toward nursing and why she thinks that starting out as a surgical ICU nurse was a great way to launch her nursing career.

NN: Congratulations on graduating and starting the new job! Why did you decide to work in the ICU?

Lindsay: I’ve been working as a nurse in the surgical ICU since March.  I wanted a job that would give me a wide range of experiences that will help me along my nursing career. I’m a second career nurse (my first career was in retail), so my nursing path has been kind of expedited. I originally considered emergency nursing, but while I was in nursing school I got a job as a patient care assistant in the surgical ICU and knew it was where I belonged.

NN: What do you like about the surgical ICU?

Lindsay: I love the excitement of it! The acuity of patients is very high, especially at the surgical ICU. Nurses have a lot of autonomy and must use their critical thinking skills. I like the challenge of it, and the fast pace. I also liked the opportunity to have direct patient care experience at the bedside, every day.

NN: What qualities do you think are important in an ICU nurse?

Lindsay: I think the biggest thing is being able to stay calm in a stressful situation. You also should have a strong work ethic, a willingness to collaborate with a team and a commitment to lifelong learning.

NN: You mentioned you want to continue in your career. Where do you see yourself in five years?

Lindsay: I want to get an advanced nursing degree. Becoming a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) is at the top of my list! In order to go to CRNA school, you have to have experience in critical care. I think my experience in the surgical ICU will lay an important groundwork for my future education.

NN: Why did you decide to go back to school and become a nurse?

Lindsay: I’ve always had the idea I wanted to become a nurse. The older I got, the better of an idea it seemed. I think I pursued nursing for a lot of reasons people get into our field: job security, growth in the industry, flexibility. I was also really impressed by the range of roles that nurses can play.

NN: What is the biggest difference between nursing school and actually being an RN?

Lindsay: Transitioning from being in orientation to being on my own in the hospital was a scary day. When you’re in orientation you have a backup, a nurse looking over your shoulder, checking up on you. The first day I was on my own, I had this revelation that my patient’s life was completely in my hands. That moment was important, and I think it’s healthy to have keep having that revelation every day. As nurses, we are incredibly privileged to take care of our patients. The moment you get too confident or take that privilege for granted is when you make mistakes.

NN: Nursing can be emotionally demanding, especially in ICU. How do you maintain your energy and a positive perspective?

Lindsay: That’s been a struggle. Nothing prepares you for the death of patients and the intense emotion of being a nurse every day. Being a nurse, giving all your empathy and compassion to your patients, can make it challenging to leave work and be a person (outside of being a nurse).

I think an important lesson I learned early on is understanding when I need a break and what helps me reset so I can continue to be a compassionate, competent nurse. Finding that balance is different for everyone. Some people go on runs every day, others need to take a vacation. When you are in a high-paced environment, it is super important to know what you need and pay attention to yourself.

NN: Do you have any advice for student nurses who are considering going into ICU nursing?  

Lindsay: I definitely recommend it. You have to be ready to put into very uncomfortable situations. You have to know your stuff and be “on top of it” all the time. You have to be the type of person that enjoys being busy all the time and thrives in a fast-paced environment. You have to know yourself and what you’re capable of…. But I highly recommend ICU. I think it is fun.  I know that “fun” is an odd word to use – but yes. I think the ICU is fun and tremendously rewarding.

I love my job and I’m so proud of my unit. We are often in really stressful situations, but we all work together so well. And when it comes down to it, we do a really good job. The days when we’re able to get people new kidneys or livers and watch them walk out of the hospital? Those are the amazing stories and that’s what makes this field really fun.

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