How to become a critical care staff nurse: Sarah's story

Meet Sarah, 24, a critical care staff nurse in Cardiff. Part of our Bitesize world of work series.

"You're always doing extra training to get more skills."

What is your job?

In critical care you look after the patients who need the most amount of care out of all other patients in the hospital. They may have suffered organ failure, where they might need extra machines to keep them alive. Shifts are 12.5 hours a day.

What are your day-to-day tasks?

You’ve got basic patient care, making sure they are washed, their nutritional needs are met and that they are hydrated. You check the patient's observations – this includes their blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature and some people may need their blood sugar checked. If you notice a deterioration, you report it to the nurse in charge or the doctors.

What skills do you use in your work?

Time management is probably one of the most important things. If you’ve got a lot of patients, you’ve got to prioritise tasks for each patient. Communication and team work are also important. For example, if you have to roll someone on a ventilator you need three people working together. You are taught to work in pairs – some tasks need to be double-checked for safety.

What subjects did you study at school?

I needed a C in English, Maths and Science. I did Additional Science as it was my favourite subject. After GCSEs I went to college. I did AS Biology, because I knew that would help with nursing. I wasn’t too good on the written exams – I was better at practical tests, so I transferred to BTEC Science alongside Psychology and Religious Studies A-level. I also did the Welsh Baccalaureate and achieved the equivalent to an A-level. I applied to university but, unfortunately, I didn't get through the first time. I tried again and got an offer to study Adult Nursing.

Is this the job you always knew you wanted to do?

It was always nursing or teaching. Originally, I wanted to do child nursing, but with working in a care home and other experiences I changed to adult care. I have wanted to do nursing for 15 years.

Sarah with a colleague.

Top tips

  • If nursing is what you want to do, go for it. It’s not going to be easy, but if it’s what you want to do, you can do it

  • Keeping calm is an important skill, which comes with experience. If you panic, you're not going to think clearly.

What to expect if you want to become a critical care staff nurse

  • Nurse salary: £24,214 to £37,267 per year
  • Nurse working hours: 37 to 42 hours per week

What qualifications do you need to be a critical care staff nurse?

  • Typical entry requirements: You can do a university degree in Adult Nursing approved by the Nursing & Midwifery Council. Some degree courses let you study another area of nursing alongside Adult Nursing. Full-time courses usually take three years. You may be able to join a nursing degree on the second year of a course if you already have a degree in:
    • a health-related subject
    • Psychology
    • Life Sciences
    • Social work

You’ll need five GCSEs (or equivalent) at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), including English, Maths and a science, and two or three A-levels (or equivalent), including at least one science or health-related subject. You'll find it helpful to get some paid or voluntary experience in social care or healthcare work before you apply for nurse training.

This information is a guide (sources: LMI for All, National Careers Service)

Find more expert advice about nursing careers on the NHS website and if you're interested in a career in nursing, get your guide to a nursing career.

For careers advice in all parts of the UK visit: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

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