Pandemic – Critical Care Nurses: The Training Challenge

Picture of Mylène Ostiguy, Nursing Consultant, Intensive Care and Coronary Unit at the CIUSSS de l'Est-de-l'île de Montréal

Mylène Ostiguy, Nursing Consultant, Intensive Care and Coronary Unit at the CIUSSS de l’Est-de-l’île de Montréal

During the pandemic, the Intensive Care Unit implemented an original solution to rapidly train its nurses. Find out which one.

Being an intensive care nurse during a pandemic

Normally, to work in the intensive Care Unit (ICU), a nurse undergoes 40 days of training upon her arrival, which is far too long a delay to adequately deal with the onset of the pandemic.

The department therefore implemented an original solution that has reduced training time to only… four days. Mylène Ostiguy, Nursing Consultant, Intensive Care and Coronary Unit at the CIUSSS de l’Est-de-l’île de Montréal, explains how they were able to adapt.

How many nurses work in the Intensive Care Unit?

Mylène Ostiguy: There are about 70 nurses trained in intensive care at Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont (HMR). We normally need 13 nurses per shift to ensure the safe management of the 24 patients who may be there.

With the pandemic, 16 beds had to be added. We then trained 75 additional nurses in 2 weeks. Some had several years of experience in the Operating Room, the Outpatient Ophthalmology Clinic or the Day Surgery Unit. However, most of them had never been in the Intensive Care Unit or seen intubated or severely ill patients.

Why does it require such a lengthy training period to work in the ICU?

M.O.: Intensive care is considered a specialty, but I prefer to say that a nurse working in intensive care is a general practitioner specializing in intensive care.

We care for patients from almost every specialty in the hospital: surgery, medicine, psychiatry, perinatality, etc. To all these specialties, we have to add critical care concepts such as: shock, intubation, intravenous management, resuscitation and rehabilitation1.

A nurse who has worked in perinatality does not have the same level of knowledge and experience as a nurse who has worked on a surgical unit. The training is long, because it is complete and should allow all nurses who wish to join us, to do so regardless of their background.

How does the training normally take place?

M. O.: Normal training lasts eight weeks. It is divided into two phases:

  • Phase 1: 19 days of theory, simulations, practical laboratories;
  • Phase 2: 21 days of internship with patients.

During their internship, learners are paired with an experienced nurse. Together, they care for patients according to standard intensive care ratios2. They must then :

  • Pass theoretical exams;
  • Demonstrate specific skills during the internship to successfully complete their critical care orientation.

On the same topic

˃ Read Pandemic – Critical Care Nurses: Strength through Unity.

Without your support, the HMR and its teams would not have been ready to face this pandemic. Without your generosity, the Intensive Care Unit staff would not have had the equipment or access to the training required to adapt to the situation in a timely manner.

Your solidarity has made a difference in the past, it makes the difference today in the face of the pandemic, and it will make the difference again tomorrow.

Thank you for contributing to the Together for the HMR Fund!



1 In fact, we admit patients who are very sick. Before sending them back upstairs, we must ensure that their basic needs are minimally met (sitting in the chair and tolerating it, being able to manage their secretions, etc.). Stable chronic patients may stay for several days or even weeks to work on their rehabilitation.

2 The so-called “standard” ratio is :

  • 2 patients for 1 nurse if they are “stable”.
  • 1 patient for 1 nurse if they are unstable.

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