Emergency Room (ER) Nurse Career Overview
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Emergency room (ER) nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who treat the seriously injured and ill in hospitals and in transport. The typical ER nurse salary falls above the national average.
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Emergency Room Nurse
What Does an ER Nurse Do?
What is an ER nurse? ER nurses treat people with serious illnesses and injuries when they arrive at the hospital. Many specialize in trauma, cardiac, pediatric, or geriatric emergency medicine. Nurse practitioners or physicians provide medical care and write orders for the ER nurses, who are tasked with supervising nursing assistants.
Key ER nurse responsibilities include the following:
- Performing triage
- Administering nursing or medical treatments
- Monitoring vital signs and responding to changes
- Documenting treatments
- Recording care plans
- Communicating with patients and families
- Quick thinking
- Steadiness under pressure
Credit: JGI/Tom Grill / Getty Images
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Where Do ER Nurses Work?
ER nurses work in a variety of settings, each of which comes with different responsibilities.
Critical Access Hospital
ER nurses in critical access hospitals help stabilize patients for transfer and treat serious injuries. They often have fewer resources for treating patients.
Urban hospital ER nurses often respond to a variety of illnesses and injuries and sometimes assist in violence prevention.
Academic Medical Center/Teaching Hospital
In academic centers, ER nurses are most likely to boast specialties, use advanced equipment, and apply experimental treatments.
Why Become an ER Nurse?
ER nursing jobs can be tremendously gratifying, but they can also be physically and emotionally draining. Sometimes ER nurses experience trauma and even develop PTSD from incidents with multiple casualties, such as disease outbreaks, natural disasters, mass shootings, or terrorist attacks. Like most nurses, however, ER nurses enjoy salaries above the U.S. average for all occupations.
Advantages to Becoming an ER Nurse
Save lives and promote quality of life
Gain trust and respect in community
Opportunities for professional advancement
Disadvantages to Becoming an ER Nurse
Requires deep physical and emotional stamina for long periods
Emotional strain of witnessing trauma and losing patients
Families may unfairly blame hospital staff, including ER nurses, for bad outcomes
How To Become an ER Nurse
Pass the NCLEX-RN exam to receive RN licensure.
Gain experience in the emergency nurse specialty area.
Improve your job prospects by becoming a CEN.
Advance your career with a graduate degree.
How Much Do ER Nurses Make?
Demand is high for ER nurses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 7% job growth rate for RNs from 2019 to 2029, making ER nursing an attractive career. ER nurse salaries are well above the average national median salary of $51,920 and the national average salary of $34,250.
On average, nurse practitioners with ER skills earn $100,721 each year. The additional education and certification is a good investment for ER nurses seeking more compensation, responsibility, and autonomy.
Frequently Asked Questions About ER Nurses
How long does it take to become an ER nurse?
It takes two years to earn an ADN or four years to earn a BSN. Candidates must hold a BSN to secure some ER nurse jobs, especially at larger hospitals. A BSN is also necessary to pursue an advanced degree such as an MSN or DNP. In addition, many hospitals will require some nursing experience when hiring someone for the ER.
What specialties are available for emergency nurses?
The following includes common ER nurse specialties and special credentials:
- Trauma ER nurse: treats severe trauma cases
- Triage ER nurse: determines priorities based on urgency
- Flight ER nurse: treats patients during emergency air transport (certified flight registered nurse credential required)
- Pediatric ER nurse: treats children in the ER (certified pediatric emergency nurse credential required)
- Transport ER nurse: cares for patients during transport from one facility to another (certified transport registered nurse credential required)
What is the difference between an ER nurse and an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse?
ER nurses treat patients when they arrive at the hospital and focus only on immediate treatment and stabilization. ICU nurses treat patients who are in critical condition, typically in special ICUs after initial emergency treatment.
What leadership roles are available for ER nurses?
ER nurses seeking advancement outside of administrative roles can become emergency nurse practitioners by earning an MSN and certification. On the administrative side, ER nurses can become charge nurses, who lead the entire nursing unit in an emergency department. These positions require considerable experience and may require a graduate degree.
Resources for ER Nurses
Emergency Nurses AssociationENA provides continuing education, professional publications, and recognition awards for ER nurses. Emergency RNs in the United States and their international equivalents can become full members. Others may join without voting privileges.
Board of Certification for Emergency NursingBCEN certifies five different emergency nurse specializations: certified emergency nurse, certified flight registered nurse, certified pediatric emergency nurse, certified transport registered nurse, and trauma certified registered nurse. The organization offers professional education and practice exams.
Society of Trauma NursesThe STN mission is to assure that the most effective trauma care is available at a local to global level. The organization publishes research, offers mentor matching, and provides education information on improving trauma care. Licensed RNs can join as voting members and others as associate members.
Nicole Galan, RN, MSN
Nicole Galan is a registered nurse who earned a master's degree in nursing education from Capella University and currently works as a full-time freelance writer. Throughout her nursing career, Galan worked in a general medical/surgical care unit and then in infertility care. She has also worked for over 13 years as a freelance writer specializing in consumer health sites and educational materials for nursing students.
Galan is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners.
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