What Skills Do I Need as an Intensivist?

Laura M. Sands
Laura M. Sands
Most patients in the ICU require a team of specialists and technicians, who will work closely with the intensivist.
Most patients in the ICU require a team of specialists and technicians, who will work closely with the intensivist.

In addition to medical training, other skills needed for an intensivist career include focus, a keen eye for detail and good communication skills. An intensivist must also be a self-starter and possess the ability to make sound decisions. Strong organizational skills and a commitment to high ethical standards are also key skills for all intensive care specialists, as is the ability to feel and communicate empathy for patients and their loved ones.

A doctor seeking to become an intensivist may specialize in pulmonology and treat conditions of the lung.
A doctor seeking to become an intensivist may specialize in pulmonology and treat conditions of the lung.

Working in an intensive care unit (ICU) requires intensivists to undergo specific medical training. Beyond intensivist training, however, individuals must possess and develop certain skills that are important for successful intensivist jobs. The absence of such skills may put lives in danger or may make the duties of intensive care doctors and other support staff members more difficult to perform.

Intensivists are licensed physicians who are board certified in their medical specialty.
Intensivists are licensed physicians who are board certified in their medical specialty.

One of the primary skills an intensivist must possess, even prior to enrolling in medical training, is focus. The ability to give one’s full attention to a task is essential in making sure that exact instruction and protocol is adhered to at all times. In addition to focus, a person working closely with intensive care patients must be able to recognize even the slightest changes in a person’s condition in order to assure that she or he gets the best attention possible during a critical health crisis.

An intensivist must be able to communicate clearly with patients.
An intensivist must be able to communicate clearly with patients.

Strong, clear communication skills are key in any professional setting, but are of particular importance when working with a team of other health care workers to care for a critically ill or injured person. Not only must an intensivist be able to communicate well with others verbally, but written communication is of the utmost importance particularly when preparing notes, instructions and patient reports. Communication must also always remain professional and respectful in order to maintain a work environment where the primary focus is a patient’s full recovery.

An intensivist may be tasked with overseeing a patient's care after an open heart operation or other serious surgery.
An intensivist may be tasked with overseeing a patient's care after an open heart operation or other serious surgery.

Communication skills extend beyond exchanges with fellow staff members in that intensivists must also, at times, be in communication with a patient’s loved ones. The ability to feel empathy and gently explain difficult concepts and procedures in a way that people who do not have a medial background can understand is a key attribute an intensivist must have. Being able to confidently and calmly communicate with patients is also a skill that is necessary in order to work in an ICU.

An intensivist should have confidence in her or his training and abilities to be able to work without constant supervision. Understanding the rules and protocol of the hospital, as well as the expectations of every staff member, is very important. People working in these types of jobs must also be able to make informed decisions about a patient’s care while adhering to the highest professional and personal standards.

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    • Most patients in the ICU require a team of specialists and technicians, who will work closely with the intensivist.
      Most patients in the ICU require a team of specialists and technicians, who will work closely with the intensivist.
    • A doctor seeking to become an intensivist may specialize in pulmonology and treat conditions of the lung.
      A doctor seeking to become an intensivist may specialize in pulmonology and treat conditions of the lung.
    • Intensivists are licensed physicians who are board certified in their medical specialty.
      Intensivists are licensed physicians who are board certified in their medical specialty.
    • An intensivist must be able to communicate clearly with patients.
      An intensivist must be able to communicate clearly with patients.
    • An intensivist may be tasked with overseeing a patient's care after an open heart operation or other serious surgery.
      An intensivist may be tasked with overseeing a patient's care after an open heart operation or other serious surgery.