ICU Nursing: Interview with Carri Lakes, RN, BSN, CCRN

My Specialty

ICU Nursing: Interview with Carri Lakes, RN, BSN, CCRN

Embracing technology to care for the sickest patients

By Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, CPC, NC-BC
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Tell us about the trajectory of your nursing career.

I started my career at Redlands Community Hospital 21 years ago as a physical therapy assistant (PTA). I worked predominantly in the ICU, but I also participated in daily interdisciplinary rounds with different healthcare professionals, including nurses.  I was so amazed at the knowledge and expertise these nurses had that it motivated me to want to learn more as well.

I went back to school for my ASN in 2006 while continuing to work as a PTA. After graduation, I worked on a telemetry unit for a year until a position opened up in the ICU.  I worked in the ICU for several years before continuing my education and obtaining my BSN in 2012, followed by my critical care registered nurse (CCRN) certification. 

Presently, I am a staff RN in the ICU two days a week and an ICU charge nurse one day a week. I also serve as a nurse mentor and preceptor for new graduate nurses.  I am currently ICU Magnet ambassador and am involved in several nursing committees, including the hospital’s Professional Practice Congress.

How did you first begin caring for patients in the ICU?

I began caring for patients as a PTA and then continued as a nurse. Both of these positions helped me to develop vital technical skills that allow me to confidently care for physiologically declining patients, which is critical in an ICU setting. 

Additionally, experience has taught me to treat each patient as a whole entity and not simply as a specific disease or list of symptoms. I think this is a very important aspect of providing truly compassionate healthcare, and one that can sometimes be overlooked.  Maya Angelou once said, “They may forget your name, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

What is it about the ICU that gets you out of bed every day? What are the rewards?

I think the thing that gets me out of bed every day is the team that I work with. I learn something new every day from our amazing team of doctors, nurses and therapists as well as the patients that I care for.  For me, the biggest reward is to witness someone at their most critical and later have them return to visit us. It is not only extremely meaningful, but also reminds us that what we do makes a significant impact on people’s lives.

What do you find most challenging about being an ICU nurse?

The ICU can be both physically and emotionally challenging.  The physical challenges are most often associated with the critical condition that our patients are in and the high demand for care that this requires. The ICU can be very emotionally challenging as well. We deal with end-of-life issues and daily interactions with patients and their families that require a fair amount of emotional stability. That can be difficult day in and day out. 

How has technology impacted the role of the ICU nurse and the care they provide?

Technology has definitely had a positive impact on our role as ICU nurses and the care that we provide daily. One example is the presence of computers in each patient room as well as the smartphones that individual nurses carry.  This technology has made information much more accessible, which makes practicing evidence-based medicine easier as well.  I find that having constant access to an endless amount of medical information has allowed me to keep expanding my knowledge on a daily basis. It also helps me to think more critically and innovatively on my own. 

This knowledge-rich environment even prompted me to invent new technology of my own, which aims to reduce the spread of hospital-acquired infections.  Last year, I applied for a patent for the "Care Cover," which acts as a barrier between the stethoscope and the patient, just as gloves do with hands.

Years of experience helped me see what new innovations could prove useful to medical providers and their patients. I think that new inventions and technology have helped us tremendously as nurses and I am excited to be a part of the future. 

How can a nurse become an ideal candidate for an ICU position?

I think the ideal ICU candidate is one who likes working as a team player. The ICU is a very collaborative unit that depends on the joint effort of the whole healthcare team to keep it afloat. The nurses I work with all help and learn from each other daily.  Someone who is compassionate, quick on their feet and a cooperative team player would be perfect for the ICU.

Are there certifications you recommend for aspiring ICU nurses?

For ICU specifically, I would recommend looking at the requirements and resources for taking the CCRN exam. This certification helps to expand and maintain your knowledge within critical care and encourages lifelong learning in this specific specialty. 

What are your current plans for the future of your nursing career? 

As I continue to work in the ICU, I realize that there is so much more I have left to learn. This led me to once again go back to school, where I am currently working towards my master’s degree. I will complete the family nurse practitioner program at Azusa Pacific University in 2018. 

I’m not entirely sure what my plans are once I’ve graduated. I have worked in bedside acute care for 26 years, so the thought of leaving the area in which I am both comfortable and confident scares me a little. 

At the same time, it's exciting to see what opportunities lie ahead with my master’s degree. I don't think I'll ever stop learning, which is what continues to motivate me to move forward.

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, CPC, NC-BC, has worked as a nurse since 1996 and has maintained the popular nursing blog Digital Doorway since 2005. He offers expert professional coaching for nurses and nursing students at

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