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Progressive Care Unit: What Is It? What is a Nurse’s Role?

  • Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a progressive care unit (PCU) and an intensive care unit (ICU)? What is a “Step-down?”  
  • Perhaps, you are looking for a new job to transition into or are simply exploring the many roles within a hospital setting.  

  • Whatever the case may be, we’ve got the scoop on PCUs

Morgan Curry, RN/BSN

Morgan Curry, BSN / RN

Intensive Care, Outpatient Surgery, Aesthetics, Education, and Nursing Leadership

April 30, 2021
Simmons University

What is a Progressive Care Unit?

 First, let me preface by saying that every hospital is different. There are multiple levels of care within the system such as critical, intermediate, acute, and many more; however, depending on the size of your hospital, the levels of care may vary.  

Walden University defines progressive care as being care provided to hospital patients who need more monitoring and assessment than patients on the surgical/medical floor but whose conditions arent so unstable that they need to be in the ICU. 

Following, a progressive care unit is also known as a “step-down” unit from the ICU. 

So, you might be wondering, ‘What’s the difference between a progressive care unit and a telemetry unit?’ Let’s keep going! 

Although some may consider this a complete level of care, in most instances, those who work in telemetry units monitor patients through medical devices such as a cardiac monitor. If a provider has ordered telemetry monitoring for a patient, it does not classify the patient into a higher or lower level of care.  

In some cases, a progressive care unit may be classified into specialized units such as, a cardiac progressive care unit or a medical progressive care unit.  

Patients admitted to a PCU typically have a diagnosis such as a post-stent placement, post-cardiac cath, heart attack, congestive heart failure (CHF) exacerbations, or pacemaker placement.  

A medical PCU provides specialized care for patients with various diagnoses including angina, sub-acute MI, and CHF. Most of these patients have been moved from critical care to these specialized progressive care units following a surgical procedure. Additionally, these units can offer education and counseling regarding disease management, medications, and activity/rehab management.  

progressive care unit monitor

What is the PCU Nurse’s Role?

After reading about what the progressive care unit is, you may be wondering, What is a nurses role in the PCU like? What do they do? 

Highly reputable and nationally recognized nursing job board,, outlines that PCU nurses are RNs that are skilled in assessing and treating acutely ill patients by monitoring vital signs, detecting changes, and performing interventions if necessary. They can provide care to patients who need constant observation or monitoring. It is common for a PCU nurse to have prior experience in critical care.  

The average nurse-to-patient ratio in the PCU varies, but is normally about 2:1, 3:1, or 4:1, depending on the acuity of the patient.

Whether you are searching solely out of curiosity, or you are looking to make a career change, I hope this clears up any confusion on what a progressive care unit is! 

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