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Intensive care specialist

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Summary of occupation

Intensive care specialists provide life support or organ support systems to patients who are critically ill and require intensive monitoring. Patients requiring intensive care are usually those who have hypertension/hypotension instability, airway or respiratory difficulties, acute renal failure, cardiac arrhythmias or multiple organ failure. Some patients enter intensive care for monitoring after major surgery.

ANZSCO description: Investigates, diagnoses and treats patients in need of intensive and critical care. Registration or licensing is required.
Alternative names: Intensive Care Medicine Specialist, Intensivist, Internal Medical Specialist, Medical Practitioner, Physician, Specialist
Specialisations: Newborn intensive care specialist, Paediatric intensive care specialist
Job prospects: Average
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Knowledge, skills and attributes

An intensive care specialist needs:

  • knowledge regarding pharmacology, physiology (cellular, respiratory, acid based, liver, foetal and neonate), cardiovascular system, renal system, body fluids and electrolytes, nervous system, musculoskeletal system, haematological system, nutrition and metabolism, thermoregulation, immunology and host defence, endocrine system, obstetrics, gastrointestinal system,
  • knowledge in echocardiography, intracranial monitoring, endoscopy, biopsies and extracorporeal support techniques
  • to evaluate, resuscitate and manage critically ill patients including those with vital organ and system failures
  • to use organ support and replacements systems
  • expertise in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, airway management, invasive monitoring, renal therapy and mechanical ventilation
  • to anticipate, assess and define problems in the critically ill and then diagnose and implement a management plan - all within a short timeframe
  • to communicate effectively and establish and foster relationships with internal and external clients
  • to manage the process of end-of-life care
  • to manage the process of organ donation
  • compassion, self-motivation and the ability to work under pressure for long hours.
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Working conditions

Intensive care specialists have a high pressured job. Most specialists work regular hours; however, there is an on-call component and as such night and weekend work is expected.

Intensive care specialists usually work in hospitals and are often assisted by a staff of doctors, nurses and other personnel.

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Salary details

On average, intensive care specialists can expect to earn between $2 692.31 and $3 461.54 per week ($140 000 and $180 000 a year), depending on the organisation they work for, and their level of experience.

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Tools and technologies

Intensive care is one of the most technologically advanced and resource-intensive areas of medical care. Common equipment used in an intensive care unit (ICU) includes:

  • mechanical ventilation to assist breathing
  • hemofiltration equipment for acute renal failure
  • monitoring equipment
  • intravenous lines
  • nasogastric tubes and
  • suction pumps, drains and catheters.
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Education and training/entrance requirements

To become an intensive care specialist, you must first become a qualified medical practitioner and then specialise in intensive care.

Postgraduate courses in medicine are offered by the University of Notre Dame and the University of Western Australia. These courses usually take four years to complete. Entry requirements include completion of a bachelor degree in any discipline. You must also sit the Graduate Australian Medical Schools Admissions Test (GAMSAT) and attend an interview at your chosen institution. Contact the universities you are interested in for more information.

On completion of the postgraduate medical degree, you must work in the public hospital system for two years (internship and residency). To specialise in intensive care, doctors can apply to the College of Intensive Care Medicine of Australia and New Zealand (CICM) to undertake further training and ultimately receive fellowship.

Related courses

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Apprenticeships and traineeships

As an apprentice or trainee, you enter into a formal training contract with an employer. You spend most of your time working and learning practical skills on the job and you spend some time undertaking structured training with a registered training provider of your choice. They will assess your skills and when you are competent in all areas, you will be awarded a nationally recognised qualification.

If you are still at school you can access an apprenticeship through your school. You generally start your school based apprenticeship by attending school three days a week, spending one day at a registered training organisation and one day at work. Talk to your school's VET Co-ordinator to start your training now through VET in Schools. If you get a full-time apprenticeship you can apply to leave school before reaching the school leaving age.

If you are no longer at school you can apply for an apprenticeship or traineeship and get paid while you learn and work.

Related apprenticeships

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Recognition of prior learning

If you think you already have some of the skills or competencies, obtained either through non-formal or informal learning, you may be able to gain credit through recognition of prior learning.

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