My Experience as a New Grad Nurse in the CVICU

Disclaimer: The original post was posted back in 2014, I've added some things and updates!

After doing my clinical rotations on general med-surg floors, interventional cardiology, neurosurgery and peds... I felt most comfortable and the most confident when I stepped into the ICU. I don't know what it is about it, but I enjoy every part of being on a critical care unit. It was never scary for me seeing patients with a Christmas tree of IV pumps with lines and drains literally coming out of every orifice. I wanted to be an ICU nurse and I made that dream a reality.

Update: Prior to starting this internship, I began working as a PCT (patient care technician) on a step-down unit at a different hospital. I know nursing school is difficult, but I worked my junior and senior year... while being the president of my class, nursing school senator, tutoring nursing students and sitting on multiple committees (maybe it was overkill, but it definitely helped me to develop my time management skills.)

The level 1 trauma hospital I was interested in offers a summer internship program, and I told the nurse recruiter I wanted the most critical unit -- preferably the CVICU. She gave me a weird look, and told me she couldn't make any promises, but she'll try. I immediately started looking up for backup units, but nothing else caught my eye. I honestly didn't think I'd get it at all, I just kept hoping and wishing that the manager would approve of a summer student.

Update: I made sure my resume and references were on point! I included my past jobs and a list of my clinical rotations. If I can find it, I'll do a comprehensive review of resume writing throughout the nursing profession spectrum.

The nurse recruiter called me a couple of weeks later, on my 22nd birthday and gave me the news that I'd gotten the internship in the CVICU. I was ecstatic!!! I treated my internship like a 3-month long interview. I didn't just roll out of bed every morning and follow the nurses around quietly. I started researching things and reading the cardiac surgery BIBLE: The Manual of Perioperative Care in Adult Cardiac Surgery by Robert M. Bojar. I brought a notebook with me to my internship, took notes, drew pictures and asked questions. I didn't do this to impress them, but I was genuinely interested. It was amazing to see patients getting their chests opened at the bedside, ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) or just setting up for a post-op CABG. Although I couldn't function as a nurse at the time because I was still a student, I made sure that I was seeing as much as I could, whenever I could. Some of the nurses allowed me to pass medications, "shoot numbers" on the swan and it was the best experience. Fortunately, I stayed on as an intern through most of the rest of my schooling, eagerly applied there as an RN and obviously got the job! (it still hasn't hit me yet...)

My advice to anyone that has already found their passion in nursing is to pursue it! So many people told me that they absolutely positively don't hire new grads in the ICU's and that I should get a few years of med-surg under my belt before I even tried to pursue it -- especially the CVICU. While I believe any experience is great experience, I knew med-surg nursing wasn't for me and it didn't make sense for me to pursue something I knew I wasn't going to be happy doing. I have A LOT of work ahead of me, but I'm truly ready. I'm walking around with this RN name tag and it just doesn't feel real yet. I can't wait for the day that I can confidently tell someone that I am a Registered Nurse.

UPDATE: Now that I am a SRNA, I do not regret going straight into the CVICU. When I did a bit of travel nursing prior to starting CRNA school, I floated to med-surg and the ED. It is a completely different way of thinking as a unit nurse vs. the CVICU. Some new nurses need the structure just to get a hang of things. But I would definitely recommend an internship in the ICU as a student over spending time on a med-surg unit prior to going to the ICU. Even starting off on a step-down unit would be more beneficial (in my eyes) if you're interested in the ICU to continue on to CRNA school. Others may have a different opinion, but I do not think that I'm at a disadvantage because of my lack of medical surgical experience. I honestly think that coming from the CVICU puts me at an advantage over other ICU's because you get the whole gamut! You're going to see the swans, patient's with respiratory disorders, strokes, seizures, and obviously heart issues. A lot of the nurses interested in CRNA school came up to our unit to learn about the swan because they never saw it before and they for sure can ask about it in the interview... I'm totally biased, but it's just something to consider....