What Is a Progressive Care Nurse, and How Can You Become One?

Last Updated on February 22, 2024

What Is a Progressive Care Nurse, and How Can You Become One?
No matter what type of specialty you work in, most nurses share a similar passion for making a difference in the lives of others. And, while it’s true that every nurse job fulfills this need, it’s also true that some specialties are more in demand than others — for instance, the progressive care unit (PCU). So, what is a progressive care nurse, exactly, and what can you do to become one?

What Is a Progressive Care Nurse, and Why Are They Important?

Progressive care nurses provide treatment and management to patients with chronic diseases like cancer or kidney disease, or who are recovering from surgery, injury or complicated wounds. Because these patients are transitioning or progressing patients away from the intensive care unit (ICU), this type of care is called the progressive care unit (PCU).

Of course, this is also why the progressive care unit is also commonly known as the step-down unit. This is because it’s the next step down from acute care. It’s also sometimes called the intermediate care unit, the direct observation unit, the transitional care unit and, most frequently, the telemetry unit.

In the past, progressive care was done mostly in hospitals, with PCU/step-down nurses often working in the following departments:

  • Critical care
  • Medical-surgical
  • Neonatal
  • Rehabilitation
  • Pediatric
  • Surgery

Today, though, long-term care and skilled nursing facilities may also hire progressive care nurses to help care for patients and keep them out of the hospital.

As important as this work is, it’s even more critical in the ongoing fight against Covid-19. Earlier in the pandemic, intensive care units were swamped with patients. As treatment against the virus has improved, though, step-down units have become busier, working hard to keep patients out of the ICU and on the road to recovery.

And because these jobs are so important, PCU nurses are expected to have a wide range of clinical and interpersonal skills. That includes being organized and able to make quick decisions in fast-paced situations. You’ll also be expected to communicate well with patients and their families, as well as have basic technology skills. And the more experience you have in using surgical medical equipment, the better.

> Ready to find an assignment as a step-down nurse? You can browse available PCU nursing jobs here.

How to Become a Progressive Care Nurse?

The path to becoming a progressive care RN includes earning a nursing credential, experience, and ongoing learning.

Step 1. Earn Your Nursing Credentials

First, nurses must earn an officially recognized nursing license or certification. This means passing the NCLEX-RN exam to become a registered nurse (RN) or advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). Many hospitals also require their PCU nurses to have an appropriate degree, such as a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN).

Step 2. Get Experienced

After you become an RN, it’s time to work on gaining actual experience in progressive care unit, which you’ll need to pass the certification later. This will require about one year of work in a PCU/telemetry unit, or sometimes an emergency setting. And, while you’re doing this work, you’ll have the chance to develop on the communications and critical thinking skills that you’ll need for a PCU nursing job.

Step 3. Advance Your Learning

During this year of gaining experience, you’ll also need to get certified in a few clinical skills related to step-down nursing. Depending on what state you live in, or what’s required by your employer, for instance, you’ll likely certification in CPR and life support skills.

It’s also a good idea to pursue other continuing education (CE) credits in topics relevant to progressive care nursing, to help make sure you land the job you want when you’re certified and seeking a new assignment. Some helpful courses include certification for telemetry, electrocardiogram technician, certified coding professional or patient care technician. You can get a list of CE credits related to progressive care from the National Telemetry Association.

Step 4. Get Certified!

Once you’ve gained the necessary licensing, experience and CE credits, it’s time to get certified. You can choose the Progressive Care Certified Nurse (PCCN) exam offered by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACCN), or Telemetry certification from the National Telemetry Association (NTA).

You’ll also have the choice to specialize in a specific concentration. As with intensive care, progressive care units have sub-groups in some hospitals, such as medical PCU, surgical PCU, neonatal PCU and medical-surgical PCU. You can also choose other related areas like ambulatory care, cardiology, and pediatrics. Once certified, you’ll have to work to maintain it by earning additional credits throughout the year.

You can learn more about progressive care certification from the AACN website and the NTA. And if you’re interested in working as a PCU nurse, don’t delay! This type of nurse is in demand, and jobs are available across the United States.

Find Your Next Progressive Care Nursing Job with CareerStaff

At CareerStaff, we’re here to empower nurses and clinicians to find and follow their best possible career path. We’ve got nursing jobs available every day, in every corner of the United States, along with plenty of resources to help nursing professionals find and land the job of their dreams.

See for yourself — browse all of our available progressive care nursing jobs here. Or, get the ball rolling now by filling out our quick application today!

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