How To Become A Critical Care Nurse In Australia?

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Students want to know how to become critical care or ICU nurses in Australia.


Are you passionate about enhancing the well-being of patients and looking to advance your career in nursing? If yes, a career as a Critical Care Nurse can be worth exploring.


Critical care nurses are highly trained RNs that work with patients with life-threatening conditions or illnesses. With specialised experience, skills, and knowledge, these nurses integrate science and clinical skills into practice to provide essential care to help patients survive.


To practice as a critical care nurse in Australia, you must be a qualified Registered Nurse and have an advanced degree such as a Graduate Certificate in Nursing, a Graduate Diploma in Nursing, or a Master of Nursing specialising in critical care or intensive care.


This blog is for nurses considering the next step in their nursing career. Find out more about the Critical Care Nurse profession - education requirements, courses, skills, typical duties, average salary, and the steps to begin your career path in critical care nursing.



1. What Is A Critical Care Nurse In Australia?


Critical care nurses are registered nurses specialising in critical care and emergency needs and work in various intensive health care settings.


These highly trained nursing professionals provide nursing care to severely ill patients, including patients with unstable health after surgery, injury, or during the critical phase of illnesses.


They collaborate within a multidisciplinary team to ensure their patients receive the best care when facing potentially life-threatening conditions.



2. What Does A Critical Care Nurse Do?


Though the exact duties of a critical care nurse depend on their place of employment, they may expect to carry out the following general tasks:


  • Diagnose and treat patient illnesses, diseases, and injuries

  • Use life support systems to supervise patients' vital signs, including body temperature, blood pressure, heart and respiratory rate, and other vitals.

  • Create customised treatment plans for patients based on their medical needs

  • Provide care and treatment to severely ill and ICU patients.

  • Use injection, intravenous, or oral methods to provide medications to patients 

  • Provide therapies, medications and treatments, including monitors patient's responses to treatment and care plans

  • Monitor the progress of patients with care plans

  • Record and organise patient interactions, test reports, and prescriptions

  • Consult physicians and surgeons to administer treatment and care plans

  • Evaluate, plan, and implement nursing care for patients as per accepted nursing practice and standards.

  • Discuss treatment plans with patients and their family members, support them and solve their queries related to treatment and care.

  • Participate in health education and other health promotion activities to prevent ill health 

  • Liaise with teams to ensure a smooth transition of a patient from one ICU ward to another in the hospital



3. Steps To Become A Critical Care Nurse In Australia


To become a critical care nurse, you need to be a Registered Nurse and undertake postgraduate courses specialising in critical care or the intensive care field.


The exact steps to pursue this career depend on the educational path:



Step 1: Complete The Relevant Nursing Qualification



Pathway 1


If you have yet to start working as a nurse, the minimum requirement to practice as a critical care nurse is to complete at least a bachelor's degree in nursing.


Some colleges only offer a bachelor's in nursing, while others offer a dual degree that includes a bachelor's and a master's. The first step in your professional journey is to examine different educational institutions and their offered programme options.


Some candidates complete their bachelor's in nursing, find an RN job, and attend a graduate programme while working. However, many employers seek postgraduates for this role, so many candidates decide to study for a postgraduate degree in Nursing before entering the job market. 


To make a career in this competitive field, look for academic institutions offering bachelor's degrees and postgraduate degrees in nursing. 


Curtin University has undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications in Nursing, preparing you for a well-rounded career in Nursing.




Pathway 2


If you are already working as a Registered Nurse, you must complete a postgraduate qualification, such as a Graduate Certificate in Critical Care Nursing or a Master's in Nursing. (Intensive or Critical Care).



Step 2: Register To Practise Nursing In Australia


After obtaining theoretical science and practical nursing skills, you can apply your knowledge in clinical settings and give nursing care to patients in healthcare settings under the direction of an experienced nurse.


However, to practice Nursing legally in Australia, apply for a licence through the AHPRA's Nursing and Midwifery Board Australia (NMBA), and renew it yearly to keep it active.



Step 3: Develop Experience As An ICU Nurse


Besides nursing qualifications, employers also prefer candidates with nursing experience before specialising in intensive care, surgery, or emergency. 


It convinces them that the candidate they hire is well-acquainted with the different aspects of nursing and capable of working long shifts in busy environments and irregular hours.


Experience before specialising helps them ensure that their practice area suits their interests and professional goals.



Step 4: Complete A Graduate Programme In Nursing


Graduate programmes give nurses extensive academic and practical knowledge to provide high-quality care to patients in critical conditions. Those with extensive experience as an RN can pursue critical care nursing without a graduate degree or certification.


However, most employers prefer nurses to specialise through a Master's or Graduate Certificate programme before entering a critical care nurse position.


RNs applying for a postgraduate course can choose from any of the below specialist streams:


  • Acute Care 

  • Emergency/Trauma 

  • Coronary Care

  • High Dependency 

  • Paediatric Intensive Care

  • Intensive Care

  • Neonatal Intensive Care



Step 5: Apply For Critical Care Nurse Jobs


After receiving your postgraduate qualification in Nursing (Critical care/Intensive care), you can begin applying for critical care nurse jobs at hospitals, home health care agencies, or surgery centres.



4. Critical Care Courses In Australia


Here we have listed courses that will enable RNs to practice as critical care nurses per the Australian College of Critical Care Nurses Practice Standards.


The Graduate Certificate in Critical Care Nursing at UTAS helps RNs advance their knowledge, specialist skills, and core competencies in various critical care areas, including coronary care, intensive care, and emergency departments. 


It equips them with the expertise to offer emergency care for patients and their families in high-pressure environments.


The Graduate Diploma in Critical Care Nursing enables nurses to develop clinical proficiency and knowledge in nursing critically ill patients in varying critical care environments.


After gaining nursing experience in the intensive care environment, registered nurses can consider enrolling in a Master's In Critical Care Nursing in Australia to develop advanced skills and expertise to provide superior quality patient care and become clinical leaders.


Here is the list of top Australian universities that offer critical care nursing courses online:



Graduate Certificate in Critical Care Nursing




Postgraduate Critical Care Nursing Courses




Critical Care Nursing Short Courses



St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney provides an opportunity for RNs to undertake a one-year structured Intensive Care Nursing Course that includes three units of study such as:


  • Intensive Care Nursing 1

  • Intensive Care Nursing 2

  • Clinical Practice


These courses integrate theory and intensive care nursing practice to prepare students to work as Specialist Nurses in Intensive Care. 



5. How Much Does A Critical Nurse Make In Australia?


The Critical care nurse's salary varies based on geographical location, education, experience, the state in which they practice, and specific job duties. Critical care nurses with a graduate certificate or master's degree in nursing may qualify for a higher salary. 


According to Pay Scale, the average salary for a Registered Nurse in Critical Care is AU$81,379 per year or an hourly equivalent of AU$40.46.



Estimated Critical Nurse's Salary Based on Experience


  • Early career (1-4 years of experience): AU$36.21 per hour

  • Mid-career (5-9 years of experience): AU$41.67 per hour 

  • Experienced level (10-19 years of experience): AU$43.94 per hour


Talking about ICU nurses, due to their specialised role, these nurses often earn more than other nurses working within a healthcare system. While some healthcare facilities pay on an hourly scale (that sometimes includes overtime pay), others offer a fixed yearly salary.


Like all other jobs in the nursing profession, the earning potential of ICU nurses increases with additional education, certifications, and work experience. According to Pay Scale, the average ICU nurse salary in Australia is AU$71,652 per year, or an hourly equivalent of AU$39.31.



Estimated ICU Nurse Salary Based on Experience


  • Early career (1-4 years of experience): AU$31.52 per hour

  • Mid-career (5-9 years of experience): AU$40.04 per hour 

  • Experienced level (10-19 years of experience): AU$43.41 per hour



Highest Paying Cities For ICU Nurses In Australia


  • Brisbane QLD: $98,274 per year

  • Melbourne VIC: $97,303 per year

  • Illawarra NSW: $94,361 per year

  • Canberra ACT: $94,275 per year

  • Perth WA: $89,191 per year

  • Sydney NSW: $84,588 per year

  • Gosford NSW: $73,462 per year

  • Sydney Western Suburbs NSW: $57,423 per year



6. Job Outlook For Critical Care Nursing In Australia


ANZSCO Code: 254415: Registered Nurses (Critical Care and Emergency)


Nurses play a role in promoting and maintaining the overall health of the Australian population. Without ICU nurses, healthcare systems would not be able to treat trauma patients that require highly specialised care. 


Besides caring for patients daily, these specially trained nurses also help educate local communities, enhance patient care, provide counselling and act as advocates for their patients.


With the increasing elderly population, the rising number of accidents, and the occurrence of extraordinary events like COVID-19, the demand for Critical care nurses will continue to increase. They will always be able to find jobs due to technological advancements in medicine.


According to the Australian Government Job Outlook, the nursing field has seen significant growth over the past five years, projecting a steady and higher-than-average industry-wide growth over the next decade.


Considering the availability of advanced certifications and specialisation options, nursing for critical care patients will always be in demand.



Working Arrangements


54% of Registered Nurses (Critical Care and Emergency) work full-time for an average of 41 hours per week. 



Major Industries For Employment


  • Health Care And Social Assistance: 96.6%

  • Public Administration And Safety: 1.8%

  • Administrative And Support Services: 0.5%

  • Financial And Insurance Services: 0.2%

  • Other Industries: 0.5%



Percentage Of Employment Across Australia


  • New South Wales: 28.8%

  • Victoria: 25.7%

  • Queensland: 21.1%

  • South Australia: 9.2%

  • Western Australia: 9.7%

  • Tasmania: 2.7%

  • Northern Territory: 1.1%

  • Australian Capital Territory: 1.7%



Age and Gender Profile of Critical Nurses


  • The average age of employed Registered Nurses (Critical Care) in Australia is 38 years. Most of them are between the age group of 25 and 34 years.

  • (All jobs average is 40 years). Females constitute 87% of the total employed workforce. (All jobs average is 48%)



7. Working Conditions For Critical Care Nurses


Critical care nursing is a challenging and complex yet rewarding career. These nurses work in a fast-paced and dynamic environment that requires high levels of physical and mental strength.


ICU nurses must often provide patients with lifesaving treatment while ensuring they get the best care possible. Working long, irregular, and shift work is common in this profession.



8. Where Do Critical Care Nurses Work?


Critical care nurses integrate innovative devices and resources in settings that include high-dependency units, emergency departments, ICU units, or retrieval services.


Many critical care nurses work in various settings, such as intensive care units and hospitals. Some even work in outpatient surgery and rehabilitation centres or run their private practices.



The Most Common Work Settings For ICU Nurses


  • Hospitals

  • Post-operative Care Units

  • Surgical Departments

  • Cardiac Catheter Labs

  • Progressive Care Units

  • Outpatient Surgery Center

  • Combined cardiac and intensive care units

  • Critical care units

  • Medical and surgical intensive care units

  • General intensive care units 

  • High-dependency units

  • Recovery rooms


Some ICU nurses also work in academics, research, administration, and as nurse consultants.



Specialist Roles for ICU Nurses


  • Neurological ICU Nurse

  • Burn ICU Nurse

  • Transplant ICU Nurse

  • Medical ICU Nurse

  • Neonatal ICU Nurse



9. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)



What Are Three Important Skills For A Critical Care Nurse?


The role of critical care nurses is complex, as they work to maintain and restore health to patients via careful management of their body systems. 


To perform the job perfectly, they must have exceptional interpersonal and communication skills, critical thinking skills, and the ability to work in a fast-paced medical environment.


Other skills that make them more desirable for the role are: 


  • Passion for serving people

  • Like managing a patient's condition and outcomes 

  • Inquisitive

  • Attention to medical processes 

  • Compassion and Empathy

  • Understanding

  • Courageous to advocate for their patient to family members

  • Professionalism

  • Leadership abilities

  • Capacity to carry out complex directions



How Do I Become A Critical Care Nurse?


To be a critical nurse in Australia, you need to complete at least a bachelor's degree in nursing and gain specialist experience to obtain a license to work as a Registered Nurse (Critical Care and Emergency). Most employers also need job applicants to have a master's degree in nursing for this role.


If you are an RN, you can become a critical care nurse by completing a master's in nursing program or a graduate certificate specialising in critical or intensive care.


So, if you want to know how you can be qualified to practice critical care nursing, go with the most common learning path candidates take:


  • Obtain a Bachelor's degree in Nursing

  • Look for a job as a Registered Nurse and earn a graduate qualification while working and get the much-needed experience to work in critical care nursing. 

  • Register with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia to work as a licensed critical care nurse in Australia.



How Long Does It Take To Become A Critical Nurse?


The chosen educational path determines the years to become a critical care nurse in Australia. Some nurses enter a critical care nurse role immediately after completing a bachelor's degree, while others study a relevant postgraduate course before entering the job market. 


Here is the duration breakdown for completing the relevant qualifications to pursue this role:


  • 3-year Bachelor of Nursing program

  • 2-year full-time postgraduate qualification like a Master of Nursing specialising in intensive care or critical care nursing. Alternatively, you can complete 1-year Graduate certification program in nursing.


Thus, becoming a critical care nurse may take three years - (Bachelor of Nursing). However, many nurses spend four or more years (Bachelor of Nursing + Graduate certification in Nursing / Master of Nursing) to earn the requisite education to work in this profession.



Is Critical Care Nursing Hard?


When deciding to pursue this profession, many students want to know if it's hard to get into nursingICU nursing is a highly demanding nursing career, both mentally and physically. ICU nurses provide lifesaving nursing care to patients on the edge of death. 


They need advanced technical skills, composure, and positive life philosophy to work in this complex and challenging environment.


As more and more new grads successfully start their careers in ICU, it is possible to become one. Your abilities and how well the staff supports your competency development determine your success as a critical care nurse. 


If you have the technical skillset and required personal attributes, nothing can stop you from achieving your ambition.



10. Conclusion


Studying critical care nursing allows you to explore the latest technological advances and the associated nursing practice to fulfil the patient's needs in a critical care environment.


Critical care nursing courses are an investment in your future and equip you with the knowledge and skills to ensure better patient outcomes and career progression leading to opportunities in clinical research, administration, and specialist nursing roles.


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