How Do I Become an Intensivist?

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  • Written By: B. Chisholm
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 25 October 2019
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The way to become an intensivist may differ slightly from country to country. In general the process involves qualification as a medical doctor, completing a residency program in hospital, specializing in a certain area of medicine and then completing a two- to three-year fellowship in Critical Care Medicine. The time it takes to become an intensivist is usually at least ten years, if study is pursued without any breaks.

An intensivist is a doctor who works mainly in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of a hospital, although they may be required in other places, such as in Casualty or Emergency, and in caring for critically ill patients being transported from one facility to another. The ICU is the ward where critically ill patients are cared for who require around-the-clock intensive monitoring. Depending on the facility, each patient in the ICU will have a nurse, sometimes two, looking after just them, overseen by the intensivist and a team of other medical professionals.

The choice to become an intensivist should not be taken lightly because not only does it require dedication and a long period of study, but, once qualified, the job is highly demanding and may be very stressful. Hours may be long and the responsibility of having critically ill patient’s lives in one's hands can be emotionally draining. On the positive side, it should also be remembered that it can be an extremely fulfilling career for a doctor.


After qualifying as a doctor and completing the residency program, any doctor wanting to become an intensivist must then specialize in their field of interest. Generally, a doctor aiming to become an intensivist will specialize in either internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, anesthesiology or pulmonology. Becoming an intensivist, however, is not limited to only these specialties; doctors with other specialties may also go on to become intensivists.

In Australia and New Zealand, the intensivist program may be started after qualification as a medical doctor. It then takes six years of training to become an intensivist: three years are basic training and then three years advanced, after which the doctor becomes a Fellow of the College of Intensive Care Medicine and can practice as an intensivist.

Once the doctor has met the requirements by completing the two- to three-year Critical Medicine fellowship, they will then work in the ICU with a whole group of other medical professionals. Due to the fact that the care of critically ill patients may require a whole team of doctors working together, this team may include pharmacists, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and psychiatrists. .


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