What Is a Nursing Unit?

What Is a Nursing Unit?

As you start your health care career, the many different types of nursing units can seem confusing and overwhelming. A nursing unit is a special department, typically in a hospital setting, dedicated to patients with specific needs. Each health care worker in a nursing unit is trained to care for specific situations or types of patients.

With all the acronyms, it can get confusing to know where you are and what services are provided. Knowing the differences between these units can help you be as specific as possible when determining your career goals. To help you out we listed below the different types of nursing units and the care they provide:

Types of Nursing Units

Each unit of the hospital offers a specialized area of care. The size and acuity of care they provide will determine what types of units you see at various hospitals. For example, while one local hospital may offer a great labor, delivery, and postpartum unit, the specialized NICU may be at a local children’s hospital. There are also hospitals that specialize in oncology (cancer care) and cardiology. 

Intensive Care Unit (ICU)

Also referred to as the critical care unit, or CCU, the ICU is for patients who require strict monitoring and/or special equipment. Because of the constant monitoring of patients, typically few are admitted at a time and are given 1:1 or 2:1 nurse-to-patient ratio. They have stricter visitation policies, as patients in this unit require more rest and fewer distractions.

Emergency Room (ER)

The emergency room is where patients with a sudden and serious illness or injury are admitted. Patients are admitted based upon the severity of their illness, rather than the time they arrive. A patient who feels as though they can wait to see a doctor and does not need immediate attention, likely does not warrant admission through the ER.

Trauma Unit

A trauma unit or center is typically part of the emergency room service where extreme cases are taken in for highly specialized and immediate care. The patients in this unit are in need of treatment that their immediate survival depends on. These patients could be the victims of car accidents, gunshots, stabs, serious falls, or other types of severe events.

Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU)

In the post-anesthesia care unit, patients are taken to rest and be monitored after surgery while their anesthesia wears off. Depending on the type of surgery, and if there is any additional follow up needed, patients may be discharged right from the PACU.

Coronary/Cardiac Care Unit (CCU)

If you have heart disease, are getting or recovering from heart surgery long-term, or have had a cardiac event, such as a heart attack, you are admitted to the CCU. This is a specialized intensive care unit that takes care of cardiac-related issues.

Labor and Delivery/Postpartum Units

Both of these units work together to ensure the successful birth of babies and the healthy recovery of mothers. Here the nurses work to monitor both mother and baby and assist with the delivery. Once the patients are transferred to the postpartum units, the nurse will assist and educate on topics such as breastfeeding, sleep safety, and assist the new mother in getting comfortable with the baby before they are discharged.

Dialysis Services Unit

Patients who are suffering from kidney failure and disease and are in need of hemodialysis, or dialysis, are taken care of in the dialysis services unit. Dialysis is the process in which excess water, solutes, and toxins are removed from your body when your kidneys can no longer perform those functions naturally. This unit also provides additional kidney treatments.

Medical-Surgical Services Unit

Medical-surgical nursing is the largest nursing specialty in medicine. This unit focuses on the care of adults who have a variety of diagnoses in general medicine. It is used for patients who do not require close monitoring but still need to stay in the hospital. These patients can perform some self-care such as eating and going to the bathroom on their own and can host visitors during the regulated visiting hours.

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

When a newborn baby requires constant monitoring, they are taken to the NICU, which is sometimes referred to as an intensive care nursery (ICN). In this unit nurses take care of newborns who require extra medical attention because they are premature, drug dependent, or have other birth defects.

Neurological Intensive Care Unit (Neuro ICU)

The neurological intensive care unit is where patients are taken if they are recovering from a traumatic brain injury. This can include strokes, seizures, blunt force trauma, epilepsy, or if a patient is recovering from brain or spine surgery.

Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU)

The pediatric intensive care unit is where children are taken when they are receiving critical care. These units are typically found in children’s hospitals. Smaller hospitals may have their neonatal intensive care unit within the PICU.

Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU)

The surgical intensive care unit is where patients are treated if they are critically ill and are in need of or recovering from surgery. The SICU is monitored by doctors and nurses with a surgical background.

Progressive Care Unit (PCU)

Patients are taken to the progressive care unit when they are still being treated but also require less monitoring than in the ICU. These patients are in a more stable condition than those in the ICU. There are more patients in the PCU than the ICU, so the nurse-to-patient ratio is usually lower with one nurse for every three-to-five patients. These can also be referred to as step-down, intermediate, or transitional units.

Inpatient Psychiatric Services Unit

If patients are suffering from psychotic and affective mental health disorders, they are taken to the inpatient psychiatric services unit for an overnight stay. These psychiatric disorders can include borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, major depression, schizophrenia, and substance abuse. Because these disorders need to be monitored and evaluated, patients may stay a couple of nights in this unit.

With so many specialties across many different nursing units, it can be difficult to choose one that best suits your expertise. Do your research and take the time to talk to doctors and nurses who work full time in these units to get an in-depth scope of the kind of work expected on these various units. Depending on your career goals and which unit you want to work in, you’ll need to obtain certain certifications to work in some of the specific units.

Justine Nelson

Justine Nelson RN, BSN, has been a registered nurse for over 11 years with experience in home health, community health, school based nursing and healthcare based tech startups. Justine is passionate about developing new and innovative roles for nurses outside of traditional nursing roles. She currently serves as an RN content Specialist for Clipboard Health.

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