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Nursing Contract June 19, 2019

ICU Nurse Organizations Guide and How to Get Involved

Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nursing, or critical care nursing, is a specialized branch of nursing that demands long hours, emotional stamina, and the ability to provide comprehensive care to patients who are facing serious illnesses that are immediately life-threatening.

The intensive care profession is challenging but those that become an ICU nurse also know how immensely rewarding it is, and that there is hardly ever a dull moment. According to Shirley Sherman, who works at the at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Washington as the clinical nurse director of critical care, “Critical-care nurses have to provide all of a patient’s care because it doesn’t take much for them to be in trouble quickly. Critical care nurses need to be highly aware of everything that is going on.”

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ICU Nurse Organizations

Joining ICU nurse organizations offers working nurses a chance to meet their peers, develop a network, and reap other benefits that come with being affiliated with a certified nursing organization like guidance in finding ICU nursing jobs. Joining is generally easy, and most national organizations offer local chapter meetings that allow nurses to meet peers in their area. This is amongst one of our top tips for new ICU nurses and veteran nurses.

Why Join an ICU Nursing Organization?

While there are myriad benefits to joining a nursing organization, each nurse’s personal reason may be different. Some might want access to a network of peers—people that understand the rigors of the job and who they can share their thoughts with—while others might want to achieve certain certifications which give them a professional leg up.

Some of the most common reasons for joining an organization include:

Professional Development and Networking. ICU nursing organizations allow nurses to connect with their peers. While this can offer some expected benefits, like the ability to make friends and share thoughts and challenges with understanding ears, it can also give nurses a more powerful voice when they speak in local and national arenas.

For example, Senator Maureen Walsh recently suggested that nurses “probably play cards” at work. Her statement was made from a place of ignorance, and it made light of a profession that requires constant focus and hard work. She has since issued an apology and may even shadow a nurse during a 12-hour shift. This wouldn’t have happened without a coalition of empowered nurses.

Conventions. There are several large, national nursing conventions that are held each year. Members of professional nursing organizations are often given discounted rates and are notified of conventions before those who are outside of organizations. Conventions are fantastic opportunities to network and meet other ICU nurses.

Education. The rigors of ICU nursing can make it difficult to keep up with changes in the field at large. Changes in technology, science, and medicine are happening every day, and many of these developments directly impact ICU nurses. Some specialties also require continuing education (CE) to stay updated with the practice, and some organizations provide CE to members free of charge.

Certifications. One of the best ways for nurses to distinguish themselves from their peers is to secure certifications. Among other things, an ICU nurse certification demonstrates to peers, employers, and patients that excellence is a priority for you. When it comes time for career advancement, certifications go a long way.

Career guidance. Most organizations have a “career center” which alerts members to job opportunities. It’s useful to check this regularly, even if you are not looking for a different position, just to stay updated on your earning potential and trends in the intensive care field. If you are looking for a new position, other members may be able to assist you.

Discounts and resources. Discounts are often offered to members of professional nursing organizations. This can include anything from lower rates on continuing education to free newsletters to credit card offers.

The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses is the largest and perhaps the most resource-laden organization for ICU nurses.

American Association of Critical-Care Nurses

The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) is the largest specialty nursing organization in the world with over 100,000 members. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that unites nurses in the critical care field to mutually enhance knowledge of the practice and offer professional opportunities, all with the ultimate goal of achieving excellence in patient care.

Values. Nurses who join the AACN are required to adhere to a set of values, grounded in the organization’s long history and dedication to patient care. These values are as follows:

Accountability. A central tenet of the AACN is accountability, a mandate that all members, nursing staff, and volunteers are held responsible for ethical choices and organizational decisions.

Leadership. A commitment to leadership is central to the AACN. Nurses who work in the ICU must possess or develop these skills in order to meet the significant challenges of critical care nursing.

Innovation. The AACN requires all affiliated members to strive for excellence, and in doing so help the profession advance.

Collaboration. To achieve the highest levels of family and patient-focused care, collaboration between all AACN members is required.

History of AACN

Understanding why membership in the AACN is so important to nurses in the critical care field requires a brief overview of their decades-long, storied history.

1969: The organization was founded as the “American Association of Cardiovascular Nurses” with the sole purpose of educating nurses.

1971: The organization adopted the modern name and reoriented their purpose, with the revised goal of creating a healthcare system focused on patients and their families.

1974: The first annual National Teaching Institute & Critical Care Exposition (NTI) conference, which stands today as the most important conference for ICU nurses anywhere in the world.

1980s: Two important journals—Critical Care Nurse and Advanced Critical Care—were launched.

2000s: eLearning courses were released, allowing nurses to learn online and provide a review for working nurses. Various other important educational programs launched, making AACN an invaluable resource for ICU nurses who want to excel in their profession.

2010s: The AACN host summits, conferences, and meetings addressing problems ranging from nurse burnout to ways to improve clinical practice.

Becoming a Member

There are several membership options available to people who want to become involved with the AACN. Because the organization adheres to a policy of inclusiveness and community-building, it’s not necessary to be an active ICU nurse to join.

Active Membership: For a $78 annual fee, membership is available to any registered nurse licensed to work in the United States who has an interest in ICU nursing. Nurses who are employed in related units, such as research, teaching, medical-surgical, telemetry or healthcare may also apply for membership.

Affiliate Membership: For a $78 annual fee, licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) and licensed practical nurses (LVPs), as well as non-nurse professionals, are also eligible for membership, though their ability to hold office, serve on committees, or vote may be restricted on both the local and national AACN levels.

Emeritus Membership: Members who have been with the organization for five years, or who are over the age of 55, are only asked to pay a $59 annual fee.

International Digital-Only Membership: For a $78 annual fee, membership is available to RNs who work outside of the United States.

Retired Membership: Retired nurses who wish to keep up with the organization may join for a $52 annual fee.

Student Membership: Aspiring RNs may join for a $52 annual fee, given they are involved in a professional, accredited nursing program.

Benefits of AACN Membership

Membership to AACN offers a series of benefits, including:

  • Scholarship, grant, and award eligibility
  • Access to 700+ nursing journals
  • Discounted subscription to AACN Advanced Critical Care
  • Unlimited, free continuing education
  • Certification opportunities
  • Clinical resources like webinars and projects available to members only
  • Discounted AACN products and events

AACN Chapters

Joining the AACN carries a windfall of benefits for ICU nurses, but many find the most valuable benefit to be access to local chapters. Through group meetings, members can connect, form networks, and improve their nursing skills through educational discussions and meetings.

Visit the AACN website to find local chapters that are already established near you.

Other Organizations

While the AACN is the largest ICU nurse organization, there are several other organizations that ICU nurses can become involved in. It is also possible for nurses to join multiple organizations to enhance their learning and professional networks.

American Association of Respiratory Care

The American Association of Respiratory Care (AARC) is the world’s leading organization focused on respiratory care. Like the AACN, they want to help professional healthcare workers achieve professional excellence and to comprehensive provide respiratory education to anyone who seeks it.


For ICU nurses seeking involvement with the AARC, there are several possible levels of involvement, including:

Digital Level: An $89 annual fee guarantees access to Respiratory Care and AARC Times online

1+1 Level: A $94 annual fee guarantees print access to Respiratory Care and access AARC Times online

Early Professionals: A $25 annual fee can be paid by students who are enrolled in AARC recognized academic programs for full digital access to materials


Like the AACN, the AARC offers members a series of useful benefits, including:

  • Career Services: Member receive a Career News once every two weeks, offering career advice from veteran professionals and employment opportunities
  • Respiratory Care Education: Courses from AARC University are available to members at any time of the day
  • Respiratory Care News & Information: From AARC Times to Respiratory Care, AARC publications are industry-leading and incredibly helpful
  • Consumer Savings: Qualified members can receive auto and health insurance discounts, help with student loan refinancing, and an AARC credit card

American Thoracic Society

The American Thoracic Society (ATS) was founded in 1905 by doctors who wanted to share their tuberculosis findings. There are now over 16,000 active members learning about critical illnesses, sleep-related breathing disorders and pulmonary diseases.


Membership is offered both domestically and internationally.

Full Membership: A $375 annual fee is charged to members

Affiliate: A $200 annual fee is charged to affiliate members

Trainee: A $100 fee is charged to students

Emeritus: Free of charge

International pricing is lower than domestic pricing. Further pricing options can be found on their website.


Membership carries several benefits, including:

  • Journal and Publication Access: Membership to ATS comes with subscriptions to three ATS journals and discounts on journals offered by the Society
  • Conferences and Educational Programs: Discounted conference registration and Methods in Epidemiologic, Clinical and Operations Research Course (MECOR) come with membership
  • Career help: Job boards allow members to post and find jobs
  • Advocacy Groups: Join other members to advocate on behalf of clear air, smoking cessation and other public health issues

Society of Critical Care Medicine

The Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM) offers admission to all professionals who work in the field of critical care. It is the largest such organization, with members in over 100 different countries.

Established in 1970 in Los Angeles, California, the organization holds an annual international conference in either January or February along with various other courses and meetings throughout the year.


There are three levels of membership: select membership, professional membership, and associate membership. Associate membership carries low fees but offers basic benefits.

Professional Membership: A $405 fee is charged to physicians seeking membership, and $178 for other healthcare professionals.

Select Membership: A $490 fee is charged to physicians seeking select membership, and $226 for other healthcare professionals.


SCCM benefits vary depending on membership level. However, ICU nurses who seek the professional membership can expect:

  • A subscription to Critical Care Medicine, the leading journal on critical care
  • Opportunities to become involved in committees
  • Access to free SCCM webcasts
  • Eligibility for grants other awards
  • Eligibility to join American College of Critical Care Medicine

Final Thoughts

For ICU nurses, joining the organizations listed above offer some directly advantageous benefits. They give nurses the chance to become involved in a community of peers, access journals that exist behind frustrating paywalls, and participate in committees and educational opportunities that would otherwise be inaccessible.

In addition to the organizations above, The Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nurses Society, as well as the American Burn Association, may provide similar benefits to ICU nurses looking to enhance their knowledge and meet peers in their field.

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