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Can you explain the difference between a progressive care unit and an intensive care unit?

Thursday August 23, 2012
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Dear Donna,

Can you explain the difference between a progressive care unit and an intensive care unit?

Explanation Needed

Dear Donna replies:

Dear Explanation Needed,

Intensive care units are typically for the most acutely ill patients, those who are unstable, in critical condition and needing very intensive nursing care and surveillance. In most ICUs, the nurse-to-patient ratio is 1-to-1 or 1-to-2 maximum.

The term "progressive care unit" (also called step-down unit, intermediate care unit, transitional care unit, or telemetry unit) may be used in varying ways in different facilities. But, often it is an intermediary step between ICU and a med/surg floor. These patients still need a high level of skilled nursing care and surveillance (although less so than in an ICU) but are more stable. The nurse-to-patient ratio would be higher than in an ICU, but lower than a med/surg unit — anywhere from 1-to-3 to 1-to-5. Some PCUs provide general care, while others are more focused, such as a cardiac care PCU.

When considering a position on either type of unit, or any unit for that matter, always ask for a tour of the unit and what the usual nurse-to-patient ratio is.

Best wishes,

Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, well-known career guru, is Nurse.com’s “Dear Donna” and author of “Your First Year as a Nurse: Making the Transition from Total Novice to Successful Professional” and “The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses: Practical Advice for Thriving at Every Stage of Your Career.” Information about the books is available at www.Nurse.com/CE/7010 and www.Nurse.com/CE/7250, respectively. To ask Donna your question, go to www.Nurse.com/Asktheexperts/Deardonna. Find a “Dear Donna” seminar near you: Call 800-866-0919 or visit http://Events.nursingspectrum.com/Seminar.