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What Is a CVICU Nurse?


Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the U.S., according to 2020 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), making the roles of cardiovascular medical professionals critically important to the nation’s health. Nurses who work in cardiovascular intensive care units (CVICUs) take on one of these valued roles.


CVICU nurses deliver care to patients in critical condition who are suffering from heart problems. These patients are typically coming out of operating rooms after cardiovascular surgery or other surgical procedures and require specialized care unique to intensive care units (ICUs).


Nursing professionals work in a variety of nurse specializations in different settings such as hospitals, schools, nursing homes, research labs, and private practices. Working in an ICU, however, comes with a unique set of challenges. CVICU nurses must be comfortable working with high-risk patients in a fast-paced environment, and they need a targeted combination of education and experience to gain the skills required to think and act quickly on the job.

What Is the CVICU Nurse Job Description?

CVICU nurses work in complex and dynamic units that cater to patients who require constant monitoring, since their conditions are considered critical. Nurses in these units manage highly sophisticated medical equipment and work closely with physicians while typically taking care of no more than two critically ill patients per shift.


These nurses must become adept at using advanced technologies such as telemetry monitors, intra-aortic balloon pumps, and ventilators. CVICU nurses begin their careers by pursuing a nursing diploma or degree and gaining RN licensure. They then can gain credentials from accreditation boards and develop a specific set of skills and competencies.

Required Skills and Responsibilities

Job descriptions for CVICU nurses typically list the following requirements:


  • Active RN license, which requires a nursing diploma or degree
  • Operating room experience
  • Basic life support (BLS) certification
  • Strong organizational and leadership skills


Common competencies required include:


  • Ability to give expert analysis and assess patient conditions
  • Thorough knowledge of arrhythmia management, pathophysiology, and hemodynamics
  • Ability to communicate, coordinate, and delegate in a high-stakes, fast-paced environment


Nurses can also earn a certified perioperative nurse credential to distinguish themselves from competing candidates when applying for jobs. (Perioperative means during or following an operation.) This accreditation certifies subject matter expertise in areas such as intraoperative care, perioperative patient assessment and diagnosis, and emergency situations.

CVICU Nurse Salary and Career Outlook

Nurses’ salaries depend on the state in which a nurse works, their employer, and the type of unit in which they work. The median annual salary for cardiovascular nurses as of August 2022 was about $89,000, according to PayScale.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not offer career projections specific to CVICU nurses, but it does offer insight into nursing jobs generally. The median wage for all registered nurses as of May 2021 was $77,600, and the number of nursing positions is projected to grow 6% between 2021 and 2031, according to the BLS.

How to Become a CVICU Nurse

All registered nurses (RN) must be licensed. To become licensed, nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) and meet their state’s other requirements. Those interested in becoming RNs can receive their training by earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or other nursing associate degree, or a diploma through a nursing program offered by a hospital or medical care organization.


In recent years, the National Academy of Medicine has stressed the importance of more nurses holding BSN degrees rather than associate level or diploma program degrees.


As they are often required or preferred, many nurses also maintain active basic life support (BLS) and advanced cardiovascular life support certifications. CVICU nurses can pursue more advanced certifications, which typically require at least two to five years of experience working with the critically ill. These certifications include:


  • Critical care registered nurse (CCRN)
  • Cardiac medicine certification (CMC)
  • Cardiac surgery certification (CSC)
  • Cardiac vascular nursing certification (CV-BC)
  • Certified cardiac rehabilitation professional (CCRP)


In addition to degrees and certifications, some CVICU nurses join the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) for networking and professional development opportunities.

Take the Next Step in Your Nursing Career

Individuals interested in becoming PACU nurses will be well-served by developing a variety of competencies that are relevant to the field. Completing an online education, such as an online RN to BSN program, can help students cultivate these skills.


  • Attention to detail: PACU nurses are responsible for monitoring post-operative patients’ vital signs, alertness, and recovery from anesthesia. Strong attention to detail is needed to detect changes in patients’ health and recovery status.
  • Critical thinking: Critical-thinking skills help PACU nurses make decisions about patient care based on their knowledge, past experiences, and the state of the patient they’re caring for. Critical-thinking skills also help RNs identify changes in patients’ status.
  • Communication skills: A PACU nurse is required to communicate with doctors, support staff, patients, and patients’ families. Strong communication skills help PACU nurses relay complex information in language that’s concise and easy to understand.
  • Compassion: Post-operative patients are often groggy, and in some instances, they may be experiencing varying levels of pain. Skilled, compassionate RNs are likely to find they have the best job prospects.


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