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ER Nurse Careers and Salary Outlook

June 3, 2020 | Staff Writers

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Individuals interested in providing nursing care to patients in trauma and emergency situations can pursue careers as emergency room (ER) nurses. Our guide provides information about the emergency nurse profession, including what ER nurses do, where these nurses work, ER nurse salary data, what skills they should possess, and how to become an ER nurse. Read on to dive deeper into this fulfilling and lucrative profession.

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What is an ER Nurse?

ER nurses work within interdisciplinary teams to perform many different tasks, including keeping patients comfortable and performing life-saving CPR and first aid. Many ER nurses work in trauma situations, developing logical plans of action for their patients, working to obtain stabilization first and treatment following. Some common tasks include device placement, wound care, blood transfusions, and administering medicine.


  • What Do ER Nurses Do?

    Emergency nurses work in high stress, fast-paced situations, in which a rapid assessment of conditions and a quick treatment plan must be put into effect. Depending on the illness or trauma, emergency nurses may find themselves working on patients in serious duress who may be facing life-threatening injuries. Due to the serious nature of their work, emergency nurses must obtain advanced education and high levels of experience. These professionals treat many different conditions, so they must possess general and specific medical knowledge.

    Emergency nurses take on many crucial roles throughout their careers. Many of these nurses work in trauma centers, providing care for patients who most often arrive at their department by helicopter or ambulance, although they sometimes come in a personal vehicle. Code nurses run code rooms in the emergency department designated for the sickest patients in emergency care.

    Triage nurses sort through patients based on their vital signs, pain levels, and the resources they need to determine which patients should be seen first. Other roles emergency nurses take on include disaster response or emergency preparedness nurses, flight nurses, pediatric emergency department nurses, burn center nurses, critical care transport nurses, charge nurses, military nurses, and geriatric emergency department nurses.

  • Where Do ER Nurses Work?

    Emergency nurses work in emergency departments across hospitals and medical facility settings. While many emergency nurses work in standard hospital emergency rooms, there are many emergency departments where these nurses can find work. Emergency departments are specific to certain patient populations with various medical issues.

    Emergency departments can include units for trauma, cardiac issues, burns, disaster response, pediatric, adult, and geriatric. These nurses can work in rural areas, community settings, teaching hospitals, stand-alone emergency departments, and critical access sites.

  • Skills That Could Affect ER Nurse Salaries

    ER nurses typically work in high-pressure situations. In the emergency room, patients often arrive with life-threatening illnesses or injuries, requiring nurses to think quickly and remain calm to provide effective care. One of the most pertinent skills these nurses can possess is the ability to work well under pressure by keeping a level, clear head while still working quickly to provide patient care. Emergency nurses should possess strong communication skills. These professionals work as part of a team and should be able to communicate their plans and ideas effectively to their coworkers to provide the best care for their patients.

    Compassion is a crucial skill for ER nurses. Patients in emergency and trauma settings are often distraught and rely on their nurses to understand their emotions and pain levels to provide effective care while remaining calm.


How to Become an ER Nurse

Becoming an ER nurse does not require one specific pathway. Many hospitals hire nurses into emergency room departments immediately after they graduate and obtain licensure. Nurses who come from different specialties can transition into the emergency room by applying for internal positions to switch departments, making the process much quicker.

To become an emergency nurse, each individual must complete an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) and complete their state’s NCLEX-RN exam to receive the registered nurse (RN) designation.

Education

Education requirements to become an emergency nurse adhere to the requirements needed for RN licensing. To qualify for licensure as an RN, each graduate must either hold an ADN or BSN. Learners should complete their programs at regionally accredited colleges or universities. While some hospitals hire RNs who have earned ADNs, many prefer candidates who hold BSNs.

Training and Certification

In addition to earning an ADN or BSN and completing the RN licensing process, each aspiring professional must obtain the certified emergency nurse (CEN) credential to become an emergency nurse. The credential, created by the Emergency Nurses Association, is nationally accepted for the profession.

Certified nurses who apply for emergency nurse roles are widely considered to hold expert-level skills and knowledge of the standards prevalent in emergency patient care. RNs who hold the additional CEN certification can complete training programs to advance their theoretical and practical skills. The process requires each individual to complete the CEN exam, along with two years of emergency experience as an RN. This certification program emphasizes ethical practice and triaging patients in a fair, ethical, orderly manner.

ER Nurse Salaries and Job Growth

Emergency nurses receive different salaries and job growth rates based on their location. The national median salary for emergency nurses in the U.S. is $66,391. Emergency nurses can find the highest salary opportunities for their occupation in Los Angeles, California, where the median annual salary is $81,696. Other areas with high salary opportunities for the field include Houston, Texas ($69,339); Phoenix, Arizona ($70,687); Denver, Colorado ($63,066); and Dallas, Texas ($62,153).

Like most professions, ER nurse salaries increase as they gain more experience. Entry-level nurses experience an average salary of $53,665‬ with those in later stages of their careers making an average of $79,000 each year. Their median annual salary falls just underneath the RN annual median pay of $71,730. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 12% job growth for RNs in 2018-28, which is much faster than the average growth rate for all other occupations.

Highest Salary Locations for ER Nurses
National Median $66,391
Los Angeles, California $81,696
Houston, Texas $69,339
Phoenix, Arizona $70,687
Denver, Colorado $63,066
Dallas, Texas $62,153

Source: PayScale

Median Salary for ER Nurses by Career Experience

  • Entry Level: $53,665‬ yearly
  • Early Career: $58,240 yearly
  • Mid Career: $65,580 yearly
  • Experienced: $73,400 yearly
  • Late Career: $79,000 yearly

Source: PayScale

Related Job Salaries
Registered Nurse Certified Nurse Assistant Licensed Practical Nurse Registered Nurse, Operating Room Registered Nurse, Critical Care
$63,393 yearly $27,891 yearly $43,528 yearly $70,559 yearly $72,656 yearly

Source: PayScale

ER Nurse Resources

  • American Nurse Today This career- and clinically-focused journal for the American Nurses Association functions as the voice for nurses across the country. Reaching over 175,000 nurses across settings and specialties, this peer-reviewed journal reaches over 175,000 nurses. Users can also access podcasts, webinars, and videos associated with American Nurse Today.
  • Emergency Nurses Association Foundation As a tax-exempt organization equipped with a mission to provide research grants and educational scholarships to students pursuing degrees in emergency nursing, the Emergency Nurses Association Foundation highlights a board of trustees and relies on contributions from the public to provide support for research and education in emergency nursing.
  • Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing Functioning as an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to creating certification programs for trauma, transport, and emergency nurses, BCEN offers several prestigious certification opportunities. The board’s portfolio of certifications includes certified flight RN, certified emergency nurse, trauma certified RN, certified transport RN, and certified pediatric emergency nurse.
  • Emergency Nurses Association Comprising more than 40,000 members, ENA functions as a professional organization that represents the emergency nursing profession. ENA issues a peer-reviewed journal and publishes professional guidelines for emergency nurses. Additionally, ENA maintains a certification board that administers specialty nursing certification programs designed for emergency nurses.
  • Nurse.com Job Search The extensive job search function on Nurse.com allows nursing program graduates to seek relevant job opportunities. Professionals can filter their search results by nursing specialty and can also use a distance and location filter, allowing them to search for jobs within a set range of a specific location.
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