Bedside Nursing Excellence Award Winner


8 Ways to Thrive as a Cardiac ICU Nurse

Nursing is a difficult profession and Pediatric Cardiac ICU nursing is certainly one of the most challenging specialties.  As a 30+ year nurse at the bedside, there are certain characteristics and commonalities that are consistent with long term, bedside nurses . . . you know, the endangered species kind.

Nurses that thrive are problem solvers.  They trust their intuition, instincts, and gut feelings for some of the most unstable patients in the country.  But how do they get there?  This is a question that hospital administrators and unit managers dream of solving.  We are in a nationwide crisis where we don’t have experienced nurses to avert decompensating patients and to optimize long term outcomes.

While I certainly don’t have all the answers, I have 8 strategies that have served me well.  Perhaps they will be helpful to a new graduate nurse or a beginning nurse in the Cardiac ICU.

#1.  Get a Mentor.  This is essential.  You need someone you can trust, someone to share difficult experiences with (you will have many of those) and someone you feel comfortable asking those questions that you think you should know but don’t.  The mentors I had shared experiences and I was able to gain valuable insight vicariously.  It allowed me to gain knowledge from someone else’s experience.

#2.  Eat Lunch.  Yes, I said it.  Lunch.  Awake at 5am for a grueling, on your feet, possibly unpredictable, 12-hour shift.  That is a long day!  You not only need lunch, but you need breakfast and possibly an afternoon snack as well.  Your mind and body need nutrition to be able to stay alert, focused and have the emotional energy to deal with problematic parents or demanding surgeons.  Try to eat lunch at the same time every day and make lunch an absolute priority.

#3.  Have a BFAW. You need a Best Friend at Work (BFAW).  Work is work and yes, sometimes it is pure drudgery.  A BFAW gives you something to look forward to.  Eat lunch with your BFAW.  Walk in and out of the hospital with your BFAW.  Share a laugh.  Support each other during difficult times.  If you don’t have a BFAW, extend yourself to make friends.  It will be an organic process if you put yourself out there.  It’s important to feel like you belong.

#4.  Learning Must Be a Lifetime Habit.  6.5 minutes per day of self-study is equal to 40 hours per year of education.  Imagine going to a conference each year on Cardiac ICU specific topics for 40 hours!  This micro-habit of learning will increase your trajectory for growth by leaps and bounds.  Yes, just 6.5 minutes each and every day.  Read something, look up a topic, dive into a concept.  That’s it!  Just do it every day.

#5.  Fake It ‘Til You BECOME It.  Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk explains this principal.  You need to carry yourself with the confidence that you want to have as an experienced nurse.  Look people in the eye.  Mean what you say.  Stand up during rounds when you present your patient.  Be respectful of others.  It is a process that will develop as you continue to work towards that goal.

#6.  Grind it Out.  Cardiac ICU nurses are the best of the best.  They are the Navy SEALs of the hospital!  You don’t become a Navy SEAL without assessing and reassessing what you can do better.   It’s tough, but so are you.  Always work hard.

#7.  Parents are on your side.  Parents want the best nurse.  They want their child to do well.  Remember that you both have the same goals.  Think of them as your ally.  Give them tasks to do that help you and help their child.

#8.  Remember Your Purpose.  You have the power to positively affect a child.  As one of my colleagues says, “We are not selling clothes at Victoria’s Secret.”  We have an extraordinary obligation to be an advocate for the child and to provide the best care possible.  This takes many hours and years of dedicated service in understanding the nuances of Cardiac ICU nursing.  I can’t think of anything more important.  You may forget many of your patients and families, but they will never forget you and the impact you had on their lives.


Suzette Riddick

Children’s Hospital of Colorado