What is the Intensive Care Unit?

The intensive care unit, which is also referred to as a critical care unit, is a special ward found in a hospital (NHS, 2008). This ward provides intensive care (including monitoring and treatment) for critically ill patients, or patients who are in an unstable condition. Patients who are admitted to the ICU ward may have had an accident, severe illness, or they may be admitted after or before a surgery (NHS, 2008). ICU patients require constant medical support for their body to function properly (NHS, 2008). These patients may have a hard time breathing by themselves or may even have major organ failures (NHS, 2008). In the ward, complex medical equipment takes the place of these functions until the patient is capable of performing the functions without assistance (NHS, 2008).

Perspective of the Nurse

The ICU is one of the busiest and overwhelming places in the hospital for any person. Nurses have to be prepared to face almost any situation at any given time. Hammerschmidt describes nurses as the people who focus the correct care on a patient. This means that the nurse is responsible for recording the information on the charts and for giving the client the correct medicine. Nurses in the ICU have to be constantly on their guard and prepared for new situations and challenges. These nurses deal with trauma situations, and they often have to talk to family members and explain their patient's situation. The challenges arise from numerous critical cases entering into the hospital and nurses have to be prepared mentally, physically, and emotionally to be able to properly care for the patient. Nursing in the ICU is intense, and nurses must be prepared to care for each client and their family. Showing compassion and understanding the worries of the clients is important to helping cope with critical care situations.

Family Perspective

When one receives the bad news that a close family member has been admitted to the Intensive Care Unit, their heart sinks with fear of the unknown. A flood of questions fills their minds within a matter of seconds as to why or how this could have happened to them. They rush to the hospital coming in whatever they happen to be wearing at the time, occasionally even their pajamas. When they get there, those feelings of fear become a reality, and the first thing to be said is, “What are they doing to my family?” (Lilly, 2008). The moment they walk through the doors, they are confronted with a world of machinery and are surrounded by the sights and sounds of that world: the strange-smelling chemicals, the industrial lighting, the wires and tubes coming in and out of their bodies and the constant never-ending noise of the machines that are obviously keeping them alive(Lilly, 2008). There are several things that the family and nurses can do can do to help ease each other’s stress: 1 ask the nurses directly what is happening, and what they will be doing, and I then stand back to let them do their job, knowing that they are doing everything they can to save your loved one’s life. The second thing is for the nurse to allow the family to spend as much time as possible with the patient, especially if they are not going to last very long (Stambovsky, 2008). By doing this, it can give the family that one last final embrace with the potential to heal any hurts and to leave them with lasting peace (Stambovsky , 2008).


The ICU is perhaps one of the busiest areas in a hospital. People are occupied with their own business whether it be performing their duties as a nurse or trying to find out what has happened to a loved one. Many patients are unstable which causes the nurses to be constantly prepared for almost any situation that arises, and which may challenge their work. If a family member is concerned about the health of their loved one, they can ask a nurse for information and allow the health care provider to continue working on their loved one. Likewise, the nurse should allow time for the family to see their loved one because they will have comfort in being near them. For a nurse to take a few moments and show compassion to the family and understand their confusion and need to be with their loved one encourages many people in the ICU. Although their patients require a lot of medical attention, the family of the patient is often in dire need of emotional attention. ICU nursing is busy and requires medical attention for patients with an unstable condition. It is necessary for nurses to be constantly on their guard and prepared to face new challenges.

For futher information visit:

Notes on ICU Nursing

Family Statisfication in the Intensive Care Unit: What makes the difference? (requies UOIT login and password)


Hammerschmidt, M. (2006). Notes on ICU Nursing. Retrived November 29, 2009 from http://www.icufaqs.org/

NHS. (2008). Intensive Care. Retrieved December 1, 2009 from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Intensive-care/Pages/Introduction.aspx

A personal reflection: A final embrace. (2008). Dimensions of Critical Care Nursing DCCN, 27(6), 268.

A personal reflection: Critical care family communication. (2008). Dimensions of Critical Care Nursing DCCN, 27(5), 213.