Top 7 ICU Nurse Interview Questions to Ask

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Written by Alexa Davidson, MSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
An ICU nurse attends to one of her patients, who is lying in a bed.

Hiring managers understand the challenges of keeping an intensive care unit (ICU) fully staffed. Due to the high-stress environment and potential for career advancements from the ICU, healthcare professionals in these units have one of the highest burnout rates of any specialty.

Finding nurses with the skills and education necessary to care for your patient population begins in the interview process. This is your opportunity to identify which candidates will bring invaluable experience to the nursing team — and those whose skills are better suited elsewhere. In this guide, we share which ICU nurse interview questions to ask to find the best fit for your unit.

Why ICU Nurses Are in High Demand

Intensive care nurses have a unique skill set required to care for patients with complex medical needs. Their job duties involve managing advanced equipment and multiple drips while closely monitoring patients for subtle condition changes. This requires a knowledge base that’s developed with time, experience, and advanced training.

Competent ICU nurses can be hard to find — and just as difficult to keep. For many nurses, the ICU is seen as a jumping-off point for an advanced practice career. For others, working in a stressful environment that challenges a nurse’s morality and personal values can cause irreparable burnout.

In a healthcare climate where more nurses are leaving the profession than ever, the average nursing unit may have more new graduates than experienced nurses. This comes at a time when the younger generations of nurses have a greater focus on work-life balance and a lower tolerance for toxic cultures contributing to burnout.

What does this mean for your facility? By focusing on making continual improvements in the working conditions for your nurses, you’ll be in a better position to hold onto them for the longer term. As you work to stabilize your nursing workforce, here are some key interview questions to help you identify the right candidates for your facility. To streamline the interview process, we’ve also included a downloadable evaluation form to help you assess the candidates you’re interviewing.

ICU Nursing Interview Questions

As a hiring manager, it’s important to accept the fact that turnover is inevitable, and it may be more important to focus on a nurse’s competency and skills than their potential for longevity. These ICU nurse interview questions are designed to help managers find the best fit for current needs while considering the generational challenges impacting the future of nursing.

1. Provide an example of a situation where you had to make a decision under pressure and time was limited. What happened?

ICU nurses frequently have to make split-second decisions, as patients’ conditions can change at a moment’s notice. This question evaluates the decision-making skills necessary to thrive in this environment. It also allows a nurse to demonstrate resourcefulness and willingness to ask for help in emergencies.

Tip: This question can be changed depending on the type of ICU you’re interviewing for. For example, consider customizing cardiac ICU nurse interview questions to reflect the needs of patients recovering from heart surgery.

2. Describe a time you showed initiative to make improvements in a nursing unit. How was your idea received?

Taking initiative is important in the ICU, as the bedside nurse is often the first person to catch condition changes that require an intervention. By asking initiative interview questions, the interviewer can evaluate a nurse’s readiness to bring new ideas to the team. Whether it’s through a quality improvement project or simply bringing up a patient concern during rounds, it’s always a good sign when a nurse is comfortable contributing to team decisions.

3. Give an example of a time you prevented a small problem from becoming a major issue. What was the outcome?

A candidate should be able to demonstrate the ability to analyze problems and anticipate the outcome. This can inform important clinical decisions, which can be a matter of life or death in the ICU.

Tip: Sometimes candidates freeze when asked situational questions on the spot. Consider having a bank of ICU nurse interview questions and answers to suggest common scenarios if they need help.

4. Give an example of a time you advocated for patient safety despite differing opinions. What happened?

Patient advocacy is essential in the ICU, where nurses often advocate for patients who aren’t able to make decisions for themselves. When team members disagree on a decision affecting patient care, a nurse is challenged to maintain professionalism while offering another viewpoint. Find out how the candidate would handle this common type of situation for medically complex patients.

5. Describe a time when you had to solve a problem with very little guidance.

This question measures a nurse’s ability to use critical thinking at the bedside. Nurses face many decisions throughout the shift, and their clinical experiences help inform quick decisions. By asking a problem-solving interview question, you can get a better sense of their decision-making processes and how they arrive at a solution.

6. What would you do in a situation where you had two critically ill patients who needed immediate attention at the same time?

Critical care nurses are often faced with a situation where more than one patient needs attention at once. This is where having a foundation of time management and patient prioritization is crucial. This question allows the nurse to discuss how they organize their thoughts and responsibilities on a shift.

Tip: Feel free to swap out realistic, unit-specific examples in this scenario-based interview question. Consider asking ICU scenario interview questions to prompt nurses to recall how they’d prioritize patients with conditions commonly seen on your unit.

7. How have you demonstrated leadership in previous roles?

Whether a nurse is just beginning their professional career or has years of experience, they’ve likely had the opportunity to demonstrate leadership in the past. This tells hiring managers they can take initiative and participate in quality improvement on the unit. For new graduates, encourage the candidate to give examples from nursing school or other jobs.

We Match the Right People to the Right Positions

Whether you need to know which ICU nurse interview questions to ask, or how best to answer them, IntelyCare is here for you. See how we match the best candidates with the best jobs by connecting with us today.