Emergency room (ER) nurses have the privilege of making a difference in people's lives at their most critical moments. By serving individuals of all ages and backgrounds and meeting diverse care needs, ER nurses generally engage in highly varied work. Before considering how to leverage a nursing degree for a career in emergency medicine, it’s important to understand what it takes to excel in this occupation.
Skills and Characteristics
Performing nursing duties in an emergency room may not be for everyone. The emergency setting normally involves rapid assessment and treatment, and every second counts. An ER nurse must be able to quickly treat patients during the initial phase of an acute illness or trauma.1 In addition to a core nursing capability, there are many personal qualities that emergency nurses share, such as being extroverted, agreeable and open. These specific traits can help manage stress and succeed in a hectic and fast-paced environment.2 Other characteristics include:
- Ability to shift gears and accelerate your pace as needed
- Good observation, assessment and prioritization skills
- Multitasking abilities
- Aptitude to think fast and on your feet
- Good interpersonal and customer service skills
- High stamina
- Good personal coping skills
- Assertive patient advocate
- Ability to maintain calm amidst chaos3
If you feel you have the stamina and demeanor to care for patients in crisis situations, the first step on the path to becoming an emergency nurse is to gain the required education.
To become a registered nurse (RN) and begin specializing in emergency care, either an associate's degree in nursing (ASN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is required. A BSN typically warrants four years of study.4 After graduating and passing the appropriate certifications, a new nurse may be able to find an ER nursing job at a facility that has a formal internship or offers an orientation program aimed at non-emergency nurses who want to enter into that specialty.
Certifications and Licenses
After earning a degree, the next step for prospective nurses is to become licensed through passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).4 Upon passing the exam, RNs looking to specialize in ER nursing should have some experience in the field. It is recommended that nurses accrue a minimum two years of emergency nursing experience prior to seeking Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) certification.5 Several specialized ER nursing certifications are also offered, including flight (CFRN), pediatric emergency (CPEN) and critical care ground transport (CTRN).6
After becoming a CEN, nurses must generally continue their education throughout their careers. Technology and best practices in emergency care are regularly updated to offer patients the best care possible. Furthermore, CENs must qualify for recertification every four years after passing the original exam. Recertification can be obtained through online testing or qualifying continuing education hours.5
Job Market for ER Nurses
Flexible hours and the option to work in multiple fields of emergency employment may be additional benefits of pursuing a career in emergency or ER nursing. For instance, emergency nurses may find jobs in the following settings:
- Residential camps or educational institutions
- Cruise ships
- Correctional facilities
- Government/state EMS offices/boards of nursing
- Research institutions
- Poison control centers
- Hospital transport
- Urgent care centers
- Trauma units
- Traditional emergency rooms1, 7
Emergency nurses can also work as educators, informing the public and promoting wellness and how to prevent injuries. They can also work in leadership and research roles as administrators, managers and researchers working to improve emergency health care.1
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were over 2.75 million RN jobs in the U.S. in 2014 alone. Nursing careers are projected to increase by 16%, or much faster than average, through 2024.8
What to Expect on a Day-to-Day Basis
An emergency nurse can expect intensely varied shifts in which the pace may fluctuate from slow to hyper drive within minutes. ER nurses treat a wide range of patients each shift, ranging from infants to the elderly, while stabilizing traumatic injuries, uncovering medical conditions or treating sudden serious illnesses. The high pressure and diversity can make the workday for an ER nurse both stimulating and demanding, and emergency nurses typically need to maintain a high level of stamina throughout their shifts.1, 3
Assessment and treatment are two particular duties ER nurses can expect to perform as patients enter emergency care.1 Other skills such as providing treatment for simple lacerations to handling the onset of childbirth or an acute trauma are also situations emergency nurses may face.7 The assortment of responsibilities and the high-pressure environment may make being an emergency nurse challenging, however, it can be a personally rewarding career.
Pursue an RN-BSN Online
The Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program at Colorado Technical University is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (http://www.ccneaccreditation.org). It aims to assist students in learning to care for the complex needs of patients in a variety of settings and to help them become leaders in the profession of nursing.