What is an ER Nurse?

What is an ER Nurse?

Nursing is a challenging and rewarding career path that is right for many but too difficult for others. If you have the gumption, the stick-to-it attitude, and the desire, anyone can become a top-notch emergency room nurse. There are now more nursing career paths than ever before in different settings, fields, and programs. Since there are so many different types of nurses out there, it’s possible to find a nursing career that works for you and your particular desires, abilities, and interests.

What is an Emergency Room Nurse?

An emergency room has more going on than you might imagine. Emergency room nurses work in emergent care, generally in the emergency room of a hospital, to care for those that come in and need fast and critical care. These nurses might encounter someone going into labor, someone who has been grievously injured, or even someone that has not been able to go to their normal doctor but still needs immediate medical attention. As an ER nurse, you can expect to encounter a huge range of patients and a huge range of scenarios with their own set of challenges every day.

What Does an Emergency Room Nurse Do?

Emergency room nurses do a range of different tasks such as helping to triage patients, find out just what it is that is causing a patient’s pain, and providing basic care like administering medication or bandaging wounds. Emergency room nurses may also fill out paperwork and help patients prepare for different treatments or meetings with doctors.

These nurses may also assist doctors with medical procedures, help move patients to other areas of the hospital to be admitted, and help patients to get comfortable before they head home or are transported to other parts of the hospital. Emergency room nurses are a jack of all trades when it comes to nursing but they still need to be level headed, able to handle pressure well, and able to do a wide range of different procedures and tasks to help those that are seeking immediate care in the emergency room.

Why are Emergency Room Nurses So Important?

Emergency room nurses are crucial to the smooth operation of an emergency room and to the ability of the hospital to move patients to their necessary units. Without emergency room nurses, doctors would be expected to do everything, a task that could be nearly impossible. There are simply not enough emergency room attending doctors to be able to handle any size emergency room without a team of dedicated and skilled nurses that can help move the process along and perform a great range of tasks.

Nurses in the emergency room, as in any other health care facilities or parts of the hospital, are the backbone that helps move the day along and helps make sure that patients get the care that they deserve and need. Without a great team of emergency room nurses, going to the ER would be even more painful than it already is.

 How to Become an Emergency Room Nurse

Becoming an emergency room nurse is an incredibly difficult, yet rewarding, journey. It takes time and a great deal of training to learn how to be a great nurse and how to handle the tough situations that you will encounter. Emergency nursing is not for the faint of heart, but is a truly rewarding career path for those who pursue it.

Emergency Room Nurse Education Requirements and Training

Most emergency rooms require you to be a registered nurse before you are even considered for the position. This position requires either a two-year nursing degree or a four-year nursing degree depending on the individual requirements of the emergency room that you are applying for. You will either need to have an ADN or a BSN and have passed the NCLEX-RN licensure test for your state. There are plenty of emergency rooms across the country that will happily hire someone that has an associate degree in nursing.

On top of being a registered nurse and completing your NCLEX-RN, you can prepare to receive the Certified Emergency Nurse certification. This cert was developed by the Emergency Nurse Association to help ER nurses demonstrate their knowledge and expertise. In order to be able to take this certification, you must have at least two years of experience in the emergency room as an RN and you must successfully pass the certification test.

Skills Needed to be a great emergency room nurse:

  • Ability to remain calm, even in greatly upsetting situations and in times of trauma such as death or serious injury.
  • The ability to set aside personal feelings. You should be able to detach to a certain extent without losing your ability to empathize with patients that are coming into the emergency room.
  • You must be assertive. It is important that you be assertive enough to handle patients that come into the emergency room that may be combative, that may be pushy, or that may want to be given special treatment.
  • Time management is a very important skill, especially when challenged with a great number of patients at the same time. It’s possible that many tasks will need to be completed in a short amount of time and you may have to be quick on your feet and know how to prioritize to complete each task.
  • You must be able to cope on your own. There will be times when the things you see are disturbing, move you greatly and even sadden you. It is important that you are able to take jarring situations in stride, keep a cool head, and maintain a professional air to help keep patients calm.

There are a few different ways that you can obtain your nursing degree. For many nurses, they first get either their two-year degree or their four-year nursing degree in person on a school campus. This method of delivery for nurses is great as it allows nurses to have hands-on experience for their first few years of education before they ever set out to do their clinical hours. This allows students to talk directly with their professors and other students and allows them to better understand what they are doing and get the help they need to complete their degree.

For those who don’t wish to obtain their nursing degree on a traditional school campus, online options are available. All the coursework is available online, and clinical hours can typically be set up in a health care facility in your individual area. Depending on the school, hybrid options may also be available. Either method is a great way to get your degree, but an online degree does offer a bit more flexibility for those that are already working or that may not be able to get out and take in-person classes.

There are other post-masters emergency nursing degrees you can consider obtaining that will require you to get more training. Emergency certifications are good for five years and in most cases, you can use your experience working as your continuing education to keep your certification current.

ER Nurse Career Outlook

Emergency room nurses do a great deal more than you might imagine they do. They work to help make sure that patients are prioritized by need and to identify what is wrong with patients as they come into the emergency room. They also work to assess patients, record what the patient tells them, document what medications the patient is taking or has taken before, and record changes to the status of the patient as they wait in the ER.

They may also be required to show leadership with their team, to mentor or engage other staff in the emergency room, and to provide direction or clarity for the family of the patient that came to the emergency room. ER nurses need to be up to date about the current medical world, be in good mental and emotional health, and be able to follow the nursing professional code at all times. Being an ER nurse is a very trying and often difficult task. If you are not ready to take on this type of responsibility, it is advised that you find another career path.

Working conditions are almost always going to be in a hospital but you may also work in a clinic or other emergency service. Your day to day, no matter what time you work, is going to be fast-paced, busy, and often stressful. Hours are long and you may be on your feet for long periods of time. Emergency room nurses may also be required to work with people that are near death, are mentally unstable, have been in serious accidents, and more. Your patients will range from newborn babies to the very elderly. It is important to remember that as varied as your patients are, you are also going to come up against varied scenarios that are going to challenge you and force you to problem solve and work to find out the best solutions.

Salary and Employment

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for an emergency room nurse is around $62,000 per year. For those that work in states like California, the salary can be much higher, around $92,000. Other states that pay well above average are states like New York, Texas, and Florida. Big cities are likely to pay more to emergency room nurses as well since the demand for nurses as higher due to the patient volume.

Emergency nursing is something that will always be needed. Hospitals, nursing homes, and other areas where emergency nurses are needed are always going to exist. Nurses are in high demand as it is and having specializations will help you get a great job in a field that is still growing continuously.

Those that are already emergency room nurses can go ahead and get more certifications, like becoming an Emergency Room Nurse Practitioner. You can get your master’s in nursing, and you can even get certifications to be able to perform special procedures.

Top 5 Specialties

1. Emergency Nurses that work in labor and delivery – these nurses work with mothers that are in labor or that are in need of emergency care before they deliver their children.

2. Emergency Nurses that work in children’s hospitals – these nurses are trained specifically to take care of children that are in need of emergency care. These nurses have to have nerves of steel, be focused and able to handle seeing children that are in grave danger.

3. Emergency Nurses that work with geriatric patients – these nurses might work in nursing homes or with older patients in a geriatric unit at a hospital. They know how to take care of older patients with their special skin, bone, and age-related needs.

4. Trauma Nurses – these nurses work specifically with those that come in after having been in a traumatic accident. These nurses may work on helicopters, in emergency rooms, and may even work on the scene during traumatic events.

5. Emergency Nurses that work in the field – these nurses often work on the site of an accident or around those that are injured and cannot make it into the emergency room.


Emergency Room Nurse FAQs

Q: How long does it take to be an emergency room nurse?
A: You have to have at least a two-year nursing degree, but you may also have a four-year degree or more.

Q: What are the requirements for an emergency room nurse?
A: You must be a registered nurse, preferably with training emergency services. After two years working in the emergency room you can obtain an Emergency Nurse Certification.

Q: Are emergency room nurses considered to be part of the critical care unit?
A: Though they do care for patients that are in critical condition, an emergency nurse is not the same as a critical care nurse.

Q: Is ER nursing stressful?
A: Nursing in any field is stressful, but emergency nursing may cause even more stress due to the high volume of patients and the range of difficult scenarios.

Helpful Organizations, Societies and Agencies

These resources can help you to find out more about emergency room nursing, what you can do to further your career, and things like new rules, new technology and more.

Journal of Emergency Nursing

Society of Trauma Nurses

American Academy of Emergency Nurse Practitioners

National Emergency Nurses Association

ER Nurse Scholarships

Take a look at the Best Nursing Programs scholarship available to all those seeking to become a nurse (of any kind)!

List of Emergency Room Nurse Programs

Come back soon to see a list of the best emergency room nursing programs!

Emergency room nursing is a fantastic career to get into, but without the right training and the right attitude, you may end up having a career that you are not in love with. Emergency room nursing is not right for everyone but for those that want to make a difference, those that want to be in a fast-paced career, a fast-paced setting, and want to be challenged each and every day. If this sounds like you, get started today!

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