Q: What's a typical workday like for you?

A: I care for one or two very sick, unstable patients recovering from surgery. Some have experienced trauma such as falls, car accidents or gun shot wounds. Others have had open-heart surgery or other major surgery. I provide constant observation and monitoring throughout the day. I also make sure that patients are prepared for procedures such as CT scans or additional surgery. And I assist with procedures like tracheotomies.

Q: How does your role fit into the bigger healthcare picture?

A: For these patients, good care during the first 48 to 72 hours after surgery is essential for positive outcomes. Once they're stable, they can move on to the regular hospital floor, the rehabilitation unit or a nursing home where they continue to improve.

Q: Who do you interact with during the course of the day?

A: Besides patients and families, critical care nurses work with physicians in every surgical specialty, and a wide variety of health professionals including social workers, the pastoral care staff, dietary staff, rehabilitation coordinators, and occupational and physical therapists.

Q: Why did you become a critical care nurse?

A: I began my career on a regular hospital floor. I wanted to learn more, so I moved into critical care. It's interesting, stimulating and fast-paced work. Physicians really listen to you, and you have a lot of input into patient care.

Q: What do you like about your work?

A: It's so rewarding to see critically ill patients make a good recovery. I really feel like I'm doing something to make a difference in the world.

Nancy Giguere is a freelance writer from St. Paul who has written about healthcare since 1995.