A career in nursing offers a wide range of opportunities covering many different aspects of healthcare. Some of the most interesting and challenging areas of operations are to be found in intensive care or critical care environments, as these call on expert technical skills and an inbuilt capability to handle stressful and high-pressure working practices.
What is ITU?
There are various acronyms such as ICU (intensive care unit), CCU (critical care unit) and HDU (High Dependency Unit) that are sometimes used interchangeably with ITU to describe an intensive therapy unit or intensive treatment unit that operates as a specialist department or ward of a hospital or health care facility.
The patients in an ITU are in need of intensive treatment and monitoring because they are critically ill or in an unstable condition and require constant medical support to keep them alive. Sometimes an ITU will be a specialist area within a larger intensive care unit. The ITU will be equipped with state-of-the-art monitoring and life-support technology and is often run by consultant anaesthetists specially trained in dealing with the problems that can occur with those patients under their care.
In light of this degree of specialisation, ITU nursing staff must be experienced in caring for patients who are in extremely ill states and need to be able to deal with the complex issues of monitoring them and maintaining the status of their life support aids.
The focus of an ITU is to deliver high-intensity medical care and this usually means a very low nurse/patient ratio, sometimes one to one. The technical skills required and the need for an advanced ability to deal with crisis situations means that not every nurse is cut out for an ITU role. However, the goal of all ITU staff is to get the patient medically stable and transferred to a unit where less intensive care is needed as they progress on the road to recovery, so in many respects, the work follows the route that the majority of nurses will be familiar with.
Even a qualified staff nurse can find it a daunting experience to enter an ITU environment. It isn't just unfamiliar equipment that can seem overwhelming, but the fact that many patients will be unconscious and unresponsive can be a big change from a more usual nurse/patient interchange relationship.
Of course, ITU training can prepare all nurses at whatever level in their career to handle even the most extreme situations, and the ITU environment has highly developed training programmes. Nurses will learn in detail about the respiratory system and how to assess aspects of ventilation and blood gas interpretation. The circulatory system and applications such as ECG interpretation, Inotrope support, A-line and CVP lines, and fluid management, all play a big role in day to day duties. For ITU patients, matters concerning the renal system, such as Hemofiltration and renal support, can also be life or death level issues. Specially designed protocols and guidelines are part and parcel of the ITU training regime too.
Rewards of the role
With a number of work-related challenges an ITU nurse can face, some might ask what prompts anyone to take on such a role? The answer is that the very nature of the work brings with it great rewards, not only for the patients but also for the personal and career development of the nursing staff involved. 'Job satisfaction' is a term that is all too easily bandied around, but for those healthcare workers in an intensive care and treatment environment, it really is something that factors into a day by day routine.
Dealing with emergencies at any stage of a patient's journey through the medical system is, of course, something that all nurses are ready to deal with, but for those in an ITU, it is something that occurs far more frequently. This aspect of being able to make a difference there and then, often in real life-or-death terms, means that the vital worth of the work in hand is always there for anyone to see.
As one of the areas of healthcare that is most open to new cutting-edge technologies, the ITU field continues to see rapid changes in both clinical and nursing practices. It really is one of the fastest developing areas in terms of technical and medical advancements, and each one can literally be a life saver for individual patients. This means that changing conditions are part of the role and an interest in new advances and developments is key for a successful and rewarding career in ITU at all levels. Not only does an ITU nurse have a different level of participation in the care of patients, he or she will also come to a unique understanding of the role that intensive care and therapy plays in the overall healthcare system.