How to Become an Emergency Nurse

A comprehensive career guide for becoming an Emergency Nurse

Team of medical professionals transporting a patient

Emergency nurses play a vital role in the field of emergency care by providing immediate and specialized nursing care to patients who are experiencing acute illnesses, injuries, or life-threatening emergencies. Due to the fast-paced and dynamic nature of emergency services, nurses who work in these high-stress environments must be prepared to handle a wide range of medical emergencies at any given time. They must possess excellent critical thinking and decision-making skills to quickly assess patients, prioritize care, and intervene effectively.

In part, emergency nurses are responsible for triaging patients based on the severity of their condition, initiating life-saving interventions, administering medications, conducting diagnostic tests, and collaborating with other healthcare professionals to stabilize and manage patients’ conditions. They also provide emotional support to patients and their families during times of crisis.

The purpose of the article is to provide a comprehensive guide for individuals interested in pursuing a career as an emergency nurse. It aims to provide information about the role, responsibilities, and skills required for emergency nursing. It covers the educational requirements, certification options, job prospects, work environments, and the potential challenges and rewards of working in this field. Learn more about how to become a Registered Nurse and explore different types of nursing jobs and the education, training, and certifications required to perform these jobs.

Emergency Nurse Definition

What is an Emergency Nurse?

An emergency nurse is a highly skilled healthcare provider who is trained to provide a wide range of medical interventions for those patients who require prompt medical attention to avoid long-term disability or death. They play a significant role in triaging, assessing, administering treatments, and coordinating with interdisciplinary teams, to ensure that those in critical condition receive immediate attention.

The demanding nature of an emergency nurse’s role stems from the fast-paced and unpredictable environment they work in. They must be prepared to handle high-stress situations, requiring them to think quickly and make critical decisions. They must be adaptable, flexible, and able to multitask effectively. The physical and emotional demands of caring for patients in urgent and critical situations can be challenging, but emergency nurses play a crucial role in saving lives and providing essential care during critical moments.

Emergency Nurse: Job Description

What Does an Emergency Nurse Do?

The primary duties and responsibilities of emergency nurses encompass a wide range of tasks and responsibilities. For example, they perform triage, which involves assessing patients’ conditions, prioritizing care based on the severity of their illnesses or injuries, and determining the order in which they should receive medical attention. They provide immediate stabilization and interventions to patients in critical condition, often administering medications, initiating intravenous (IV) lines, performing advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) procedures, and assisting with intubation or ventilation, and more.

Once they have stabilized a patient by following evidence-based protocols and guidelines, they continuously monitor patients’ vital signs, responses to treatments, and overall condition and then document the observations and outcomes to ensure continuity of care and facilitate effective communication with other healthcare professionals. Through this entire process emergency nurses work closely with interdisciplinary teams, including physicians, technicians, social workers, and other healthcare professionals and provide education and support to patients and their families, explaining the diagnosis, treatment plans, and potential outcomes.

Emergency Nurse Duties

Here are some of the day-to-day responsibilities of an emergency nurse:

  • Triage patients based on acuity levels and prioritize care accordingly.
  • Assess patients’ medical history, current symptoms, and vital signs.
  • Perform physical examinations and gather necessary diagnostic information.
  • Administer medications and treatments as prescribed.
  • Initiate intravenous (IV) lines and administer fluids or medications via IV.
  • Perform wound care and dressings.
  • Assist with emergency procedures, such as intubation or chest compressions.
  • Monitor patients’ vital signs and response to treatments.
  • Collaborate with interdisciplinary teams to develop and implement treatment plans.
  • Communicate patient information, updates, and critical findings to healthcare professionals.
  • Document patient assessments, interventions, and outcomes accurately.
  • Provide emotional support and reassurance to patients and their families.
  • Educate patients on their conditions, treatment plans, and post-care instructions.
  • Coordinate and arrange for diagnostic tests, consultations, or transfers to other departments if necessary.
  • Adhere to infection control protocols and maintain a safe and clean environment.
  • Maintain confidentiality and uphold ethical standards in patient care.

Medical professional team with a patient

Emergency Nurse Skills

Specific skills and qualities are essential for success as an emergency nurse due to the demanding and fast-paced nature of the role. Some  key critical skills include:

Clinical Competence: Emergency Nurses must possess a solid understanding of anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and emergency care protocols. They need to stay updated with advancements in emergency medicine.

Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving: Emergency nurses must be able to quickly assess patients, analyze complex situations, and make sound decisions. Their problem-solving skills enables them to identify solutions, implement interventions, and address challenges effectively.

Multitasking and Time Management: Emergency Nurses must be skilled at multitasking and managing their time efficiently. They may need to care for multiple patients simultaneously, juggle competing priorities, and make rapid decisions while ensuring patient safety and quality care.

Adaptability and Flexibility: Emergency care environments can be unpredictable and constantly changing. Emergency Nurses must be adaptable, able to adjust to unexpected situations, and flexible in managing varying patient needs and priorities.

Effective Communication: Emergency nurses must be able to communicate clearly, accurately, and efficiently with patients, their families, and the healthcare team. They need to convey critical information, provide instructions, and offer support in a concise and empathetic manner.

Interpersonal Skills and Emotional Intelligence: Working in high-stress environments requires strong interpersonal skills. Emergency nurses should be able to establish rapport, demonstrate empathy, and manage emotional situations effectively.

Resilience and Emotional Stability: The ability to handle stressful situations and manage emotional stress is crucial. Emergency nurses need resilience to cope with the demands of the job and maintain their emotional well-being.

Where Do Emergency Nurses Work?

Emergency nurses have the opportunity to practice in various work settings, depending on their interests and career goals. The most common work setting for emergency nurses is hospital emergency departments. Emergency room (ER) nurses specifically work in hospital settings and are require to work as part of a multidisciplinary team, collaborating with other healthcare professionals. They also work in trauma centers, urgent care clinics, critical care transport, pediatric emergency care facilities, or in disaster management where they play a crucial role in coordinating and providing medical care during large-scale emergencies, natural disasters, or public health crises.

These are just a few examples of the potential career opportunities for emergency nurses. The field offers diverse avenues for specialization and growth, allowing nurses to pursue areas of interest and contribute to different aspects of emergency care. Continuous education, certifications, and experience can open doors to further career advancements and leadership roles in emergency nursing.

Smiling medical students at a table

Emergency Nurse Schooling & Certification

How Long Does It Take to Become an Emergency Nurse?

What Degree Do You Need to Be an Emergency Nurse?

To become an emergency nurse, individuals typically follow a specific educational pathway that includes obtaining a nursing degree and gaining clinical experience in emergency care settings. Here is an overview of the educational pathway:

Nursing Degree
The first step is to obtain a nursing degree. This can be either an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from an accredited nursing program. BSN programs provide a more comprehensive education, including coursework in leadership, critical thinking, and research, which can be beneficial for a career in emergency nursing.

After completing a nursing degree, individuals need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to become licensed registered nurses (RNs). Licensure requirements may vary by country or state.

Clinical Experience
To gain experience in emergency care, new RNs often start their careers by working in hospital medical-surgical units or other specialty areas. They can then transition to emergency care settings, such as hospital emergency departments or urgent care clinics, to gain experience specific to emergency nursing.

Continuing Education and Specialization
Emergency nurses can pursue additional education and certifications to enhance their knowledge and expertise in emergency care. Specialized training programs, workshops, and conferences focused on emergency nursing provide opportunities to deepen knowledge and acquire specialized skills.

  • Certification as a Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) is highly valued in the field of emergency nursing. To be eligible for the CEN exam, individuals typically need to have a current RN license, at least two years of experience in emergency nursing, and a specified number of hours worked in emergency care settings. Obtaining the CEN certification is important as it validates one’s expertise and commitment to professional development in emergency nursing. It enhances professional credibility, may lead to increased job opportunities, and can positively impact career advancement and salary potential.
  • Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) is a professional organization dedicated to promoting excellence in emergency nursing. They offer educational resources, conferences, networking opportunities, and access to research and best practices in emergency care.
  • Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN): The BCEN is responsible for certifying emergency nursing professionals. They provide certification exams, resources for exam preparation, and ongoing professional development opportunities.
  • Journal of Emergency Nursing (JEN): JEN is a peer-reviewed journal that publishes research and evidence-based practice articles in emergency nursing. It provides valuable information on the latest advancements, research, and best practices in the field.

Attending conferences and workshops specific to emergency nursing, such as the ENA Annual Conference support emergency nurses in their ongoing learning, provide platforms for professional networking, and contribute to their career growth and development.

Emergency Nurse Salary

How Much Do Emergency Nurses Make?

Although the BLS doesn’t report salary* data specifically for emergency nurses, we can refer to the salary* data for Registered Nurses (RNs). According to the BLS, the average annual wage for RNs in the United States was about $78,000 or about $39 per hour.

Factors that may affect salary* for emergency nurses include geographic location, level of education, and experience. The type of healthcare setting can also impact salary. Emergency nurses working in larger hospitals or specialized facilities may have different salary* structures compared to those working in smaller clinics or urgent care facilities.

Blurred image of medical professionals in a hallway

Emergency Nurse Job Outlook

What is the Job Outlook for Emergency Nurses?

Although the BLS doesn’t report job outlook data specifically for emergency nurses, we can refer to the job outlook for Registered Nurses (RNs). According to the BLS, employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 6 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

The demand for emergency nurses is expected to remain strong due to the ongoing need for emergency care services. In terms of career advancement opportunities, emergency nurses have various options to pursue. They can seek leadership positions within their departments, choose to specialize in areas like trauma care, critical care transport, pediatric emergency care, or disaster management. Advanced practice roles, such as becoming a Nurse Practitioner specializing in emergency care, offer further career progression and increased responsibilities.

Overall, the job outlook for emergency nurses is expected to be favorable, driven by the demand for emergency care services and the continued need for skilled healthcare professionals in this specialized field.

Get Started on the Path to Become an Emergency Nurse

The most challenging part of being an emergency nurse is that it requires not only physical, but also mental and emotional stamina. The pace is considerably faster than other areas of specialty within the nursing profession. But it is also an incredibly rewarding privilege to be able to help people in their weakest moments, to hold the hand of a scared or dying patient and help them find comfort or peace, as well as help the families understand what is going on with their loved one.

This article provides a comprehensive guide for individuals interested in pursuing a career as an emergency nurse and how to pursue the necessary education, clinical experience, and opportunities for professional development to excel in this rewarding nursing profession. Some of the key points included highlighting the role emergency nurses play in healthcare, their responsibilities, the importance of education and experience, as well as a closer look at the skills and qualities that an emergency nurse must exhibit to be successful in the emergency services field.

To get started on the path to becoming an emergency nurse, explore the Bachelor of Science Nursing (BSN) Program at Eagle Gate College. Or, if you already work as an RN with an associate degree, consider our RN-to-BSN Program to advance your career opportunities.