Choosing a Career as an ER Nurse

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Becoming an emergency room nurse is not for the faint of heart, but it can be a rewarding career. 

As an ER nurse, you are expected to think quickly and have a tough stomach. The emergency medicine lifestyle also comes with certain challenges. The ER is an intense environment and you’ll be tasked with providing care to a wide range of patients and conditions. 

To help you choose the nursing speciality that’s right for you, let’s look at a typical ER Nurse job description and how to become an ER nurse.

What Do ER Nurses Do? 

Emergency room nurses are registered nurses who work alongside doctors to provide immediate care for potentially life-threatening conditions. This may include treating trauma patients, patients with acute aliments or those with serious illnesses. 

The duties of an ER nurse vary and cover a lot of ground. Typical job responsibilities include:

  • Completing patient assessments and stabilization
  • Logging vital signs
  • Administering medications
  • Overseeing follow-through on doctor’s orders for x-rays and diagnostic tests
  • Charting patients’ medical history and updating electronic medical records
  • Assisting physicians with procedures
  • Relocating critical patients
  • Discharging patients or arranging for longer hospital stays
  • Providing support to family members who may be present

Contrary to popular belief, ER nurses work in settings beyond hospital emergency departments. Urgent care centers, poison control clinics and triage facilities are other options. Some ER nurses work in prisons, the military or travel-based facilities, such as airports, cruise ships and trains. Flight or transport ER nurses specialize in moving patients from one treatment area to another. 

Emergency nursing is a growing field with lots of opportunity. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that job growth for all registered nurses will skyrocket 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than all other occupations. The annual salary for a registered nurse is approximately $48,412 – $95,191, according to data from Payscale.com. Those who earn advanced diplomas or credits from an accredited school have the opportunity to earn even more.

Reasons to Choose a Career in ER Nursing

If you’re a life-long learner who craves constant challenge, then a career as an ER nurse may be perfect for you. Here are a few advantages of the job, along with downsides to consider. 

1. Diversify your skill set

In the emergency medicine lifestyle, no two shifts are ever the same. You’ll have the opportunity to treat a wide range of injuries and aliment, from broken bones to stomach pains and everything in between. Exposure to new tasks is a surefire way to stay sharp, expand your skill set and become a better nurse. However, hours are long and the ER is a very fast paced environment, so you need stamina to avoid burnout. As a result of the ER’s unpredictable nature, there’s little downtime and you’ll be on your feet a lot. On-call shifts are common, so be prepared to go in to work at a moment’s notice.

2. Serve on the front lines of patient care

As an ER nurse, you’ll be one of the first people patients encounter when they come to the hospital. It can be incredibly rewarding to help save lives, but it also takes emotional strength. Patients don’t always survive and you’ll have to learn to deal with death. Family members who are under stress may treat you like a punching bag. Empathy and a caring nature are a must. 

3. Boost your decision-making muscles

The best emergency room nurses are quick thinkers who get a rush from solving problems under pressure. They get excited by the prospect of going into situations with little-to-no information and thinking on their feet. The emergency room lifestyle is great for nurses who consider themselves natural born leaders and action-takers because it requires treating patients of all ages and acuity levels. If you’re someone who prefers consistency and quiet time to contemplate, then it’s wise to explore a different nursing speciality. 

4. Gain responsibility

Autonomy is part of the ER nurse job description. You’ll have more freedom to decide how to treat patients and can create strong relationships with physicians as a result. You’ll also get the chance to administer treatments that nurses in other specializations won’t because the ER is often an “all hands on deck” atmosphere. 

How to Become an ER Nurse

The path to becoming an ER nurse starts with earning a bachelor’s or associate’s degree in nursing from an accredited nursing program. You must also pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to begin working as a RN. 

Then it’s time to pursue hands-on field experience. Working in the emergency room is the best way to acquire skills. 

After working as an ER nurse for two years, you can get a certificate from the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN). A BCEN certification isn’t mandatory, but can greatly improve your chances of getting hired. Many ER nurse managers look for candidates with additional certifications in Basic Life Support, Advanced Cardiac Life Support, Phlebotomy and Trauma Nursing. 

Every nurse isn’t cut out to be an emergency room nurse, but it may be right for you if you’re looking for a challenging, fast-paced career that helps save lives.

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Ron Washburn
Contributor Ron Washburn

Ron is currently the senior vice president of Soliant and has been with the company for more than 27 years now. He oversees our nursing and allied health division and has been with Soliant since its small beginnings in the early 90s. He’s an integral part of our organization, and not only hosts trainings for our groups but manages company events and continues to run a desk of clients and candidates. He is experienced in contract placement, recruiting, permanent placement and internet recruiting within the healthcare industry. Ron possesses a Master's degree focused on Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship from Georgia State University. Don’t forget to check out the rest of his blogs!