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What’s the Difference Between PCU and ICU?

Progressive Care Nursing | Nursing Jobs

When you are a nurse or planning on becoming a nurse, then it is important to know anything and everything about a patient’s condition and how to communicate the information to them and their loved ones. Part of that understanding is understanding where they would be in the hospital and what that means in terms of their condition. This is why the understanding of what a PCU Nurse is as a Critical Care Nurse is incredibly important. So, what’s the difference between PCU and ICU?

What Is PCU?

The Progressive Care Unit, otherwise known as PCU, has patients who require more monitoring and assessment compared to the other patients who are residing on the other hospital floors, but their conditions are stable enough that they do not have to go to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). 

The PCU floor is usually used for monitoring patients during and after cardiac events and they are either directly admitted to the Progressive Care Unit by way of the emergency department, operating room (OR), moved from the Progressive Care Unit from the Intensive Care Unit once they have been stabilized, or they are directly from the Cardiac Cath Lab.

They allow hospitals to give more space for the patients who are in the Intensive Care Unit, for their beds, for patients who need critical care. The nurses that are found in this unit usually monitor the conditions of the patients carefully because they may or may not be at risk for complications. But many patients who are in the Progressive Care Unit could be discharged to a Med/Surg unit, a skilled nursing facility, and they could even be directed home once they have the proper care.

The PCU would have a higher nurse-to-patient ratio. For every nurse that is around, they would have about three to five patients. That is because the patients that stay here require more nursing care than the other general hospital units. These may include nursing assistants, patient care technicians, and unit clerks.

What Is ICU?

The Intensive Care Unit, otherwise known as the ICU, is where the patients who are in critical condition go to and would require intensive medical care and maybe even life support. This is where the most severe and complicated medical patients are being taken care of. The Intensive Care Unit would support patients through all of their traumatic injuries, heart attacks, strokes, and other severe respiratory and circulation issues. 

The Intensive Care Unit would have to be considered one of the most critically functioning operation environments when you go to a hospital. Most ICUs include specialized, monitoring, and technical equipment for critically ill patients like heart monitors, dialysis machines, intravenous infusions which may not include vasopressors (a drug that is used to treat shock and could also restore blood flow to the vital organs), and artificial ventilators. Vasopressors are often used in the Intensive Care Unit.

When it comes to the size of Intensive Care Units in hospitals, it would play a huge role in determining how the whole unit would be set up. If you are in a hospital that is a part of a large and diverse population, you may notice that several ICUs may include Cardiothoracic, Neurological, and Neonatal ICUs specific for the condition of the patients that are coming in and out of the hospital.

As for the staffing levels of an Intensive Care Unit, they have the highest doctors and nurses to patient ratios in the whole hospital because the patients who are staying in this unit require the most monitoring. The teams that are found in the ICU are the following:

  • ICU nurses
  • Doctors
  • Patient care technicians
  • physical therapists
  • Pharmacists
  • Dieticians
  • respiratory therapists
  • critical care coordinators.

Certifications for Nurses Working in Critical Care Units

The AACN Certification Corporation created the following certification for the unique combination of knowledge requirements for nurses who are working in the Progressive Care Unit:

  • PCCN
    • Created in 2004, this certificate is used to validate the specialized knowledge and competence of the nurse to provide the best care to acutely ill adult patients who are staying in the PCU. This is given to nurses who have mastered the complexity of treatment plans that are needed for patients in all of the other areas of the hospital as well.
  • PCCN-K
    • The PCCN-K is a certificate that was created by the AACN Certification Corporation because of the shift in the nurse’s role in the Progressive Care Unit. PCU nurses are looked to as nursing knowledge professionals that are responsible for sharing their clinical expertise and influencing the care that would be delivered to patients who are acutely ill rather than providing care directly to the patients.

Type of Care in PCU vs ICU

Progressive Care Unit Patients are usually admitted for the following:

  • Cardiac conditions
  • Post-surgical treatment
  • Pulmonary problems

Patients that are admitted to the Intensive Care Unit usually experience the following:

  • Severe burns
  • Major trauma
  • Respiratory failure
  • Organ transplants
  • Cardiothoracic surgery
  • Complex spinal surgery

There are a lot of major differences when it comes to the type of care and treatment plans for patients, staffing level requirements, and clinical knowledge and expertise that is found in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and the Progressive Care Unit (PCU) despite all of the similarities that they may have. It is important to know the difference, especially if you are planning on entering the medical field.