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Trauma Nurse Careers and Salary Outlook 2020

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Trauma is a leading cause of death in the United States. About 79,000 people age 45 and younger die each year from traumatic injuries. Trauma nurses play a key role in maintaining an effective and efficient trauma care system that saves many lives. This guide provides more information about the career, including trauma nurse salary, education and training, licensure requirements, and job outlook.

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What is a Trauma Nurse?

Trauma nurses perform in stressful and chaotic environments, dealing with patients who are often in critically unstable health. They work in emergency units, on ambulances as part of a paramedic team, and in critical care units at hospitals. Trauma nurses begin their careers as registered nurses (RNs) and spend at least two years in trauma or emergency nursing before becoming certified in the specialization. Without their expertise, fewer patients would get the care they need for recovery.

  • What Do Trauma Nurses Do?

    Trauma nurses serve on the frontline of emergency and acute illness care, treating patients who come to hospitals and intensive care units because of motor vehicle incidents, gunshot wounds, head injuries, burns, and other traumatic injuries or illnesses. These RNs receive special training that teaches them to stabilize patients suffering from life-threatening blood loss, severe wounds, and other traumas.

    Trauma nurses perform CPR; administer first aid, emergency medications, and IV fluids or blood; perform wound care; monitor heart rhythms; interact with attending physicians about patient care; and communicate with patients’ families. Trauma nurses also inform law enforcement about cases that result from criminal activity.

    Trauma nurse practitioners complete advanced training and certifications that earn them more responsibilities. For example, trauma NPs often lead nursing teams that care for patients and they may perform assessments or order imaging tests and medications, just like physicians.

  • Where Do Trauma Nurses Work?

    Trauma nurses provide care for patients in emergency rooms, intensive care units, and ambulatory care facilities, including flight nursing, trauma or surgery wards, and burn units. They work in urban, suburban, and rural environments, serving as team members alongside other nurses, paramedics, and attending doctors.

    Trauma RNs work at trauma centers designated with one of several levels: I, II, III, and IV. High-level trauma centers with level III and IV designations handle severe trauma, such as gunshot wounds and brain injuries. Trauma nurses also work to promote public health by educating citizens about the importance of wearing seatbelts and helmets or taking other precautions to help prevent injuries.

  • Skills That Could Affect Trauma Nurse Salaries

    An RN’s education, experience, certification, and place of work greatly impact their earning power. Nurses can increase salary potential by pursuing a specialty like trauma nursing. By completing the two-day trauma nursing core course administered by the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA), newly minted RNs learn how to improve trauma patient outcomes and can demonstrate their competency in this specialized domain.

    RNs with two years of experience also qualify for certifications such as the certified emergency nurse credential, which can advance their skills, employment prospects, and pay.

How to Become a Trauma Nurse

Trauma nurses save lives by providing optimal care for patients with acute and complicated conditions. Nurses account for the largest number of medical professionals in the trauma team workforce, according to the Society of Trauma Nurses, and they play an essential role in ensuring accessibility and efficient care.

Aspiring trauma nurses must be comfortable working in fast-paced, stressful situations where patients often face poor outcomes. Most begin their careers by earning a degree in nursing from an accredited two- or four-year nursing school. While in school, students may have an opportunity to explore specialties such as trauma nursing as part of a required field experience. All nurses in the U.S. must also pass an exam called the national council licensure examination (NCLEX-RN).


Those interested in trauma nursing must earn an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing from a school accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. An associate degree in nursing (ADN) takes two years to complete, while a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) typically takes around four years.

Some four-year nursing programs offer concentrations for learners interested in nursing specialties like emergency care. Concentrations allow degree-seekers to begin specialized training early in their education.

Licensed RNs with an ADN can complete a BSN in just two years, and many colleges offer online RN-to-BSN programs. While some ADN and BSN programs offer online components, the occupation’s practical nature often requires students to earn their degrees in a traditional setting.

Training and Certification

All nursing programs include supervised clinical components such as practicums or internships. Degree-seekers can begin to accrue expertise in trauma nursing by choosing a program that offers trauma-specific internships or practicums. The number of supervised hours students spend treating real patients at clinics, hospitals, and other facilities varies from program to program.

After passing the NCLEX-RN, RNs can begin acquiring postgraduate specialized training during ENA’s two-day trauma nursing core course, which was developed to improve trauma patient outcomes. After acquiring about two years’ experience, RNs can pursue certified emergency nurse, trauma certified registered nurse, certified flight registered nurse, and other credentials through the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing. Employers also expect trauma nurses to master life-saving equipment such as the defibrillator, since they often treat patients during emergency incidents.

Trauma Nurse Salaries and Job Growth

BLS data indicates a bright employment outlook for nurses, projecting a 12% job growth rate between 2018-2028. This figure is more than double the 5% average growth rate for all occupations. California, Texas, and New York hire more nurses than any other state. California is also the top-paying state for RNs, with an annual mean wage of $106,950, followed by Hawaii ($98,080), the District of Columbia ($92,350), Massachusetts ($92,140), and Oregon ($91,080).

RNs with experience and graduate-level education often assume higher-paying positions, taking on lucrative roles such as nurse practitioner (NP). RNs qualify for NP certification by completing a master of science in nursing or a doctor of nursing practice. PayScale notes that NPs make an median salary of $93,622, compared to $63,393 for RNs.

With trauma nursing experience, NPs can pursue designation as an acute-care nurse practitioner. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses offers entry-level advanced practice board certification for acute-care NPs and specialized acute care certifications in areas such as cardiac surgery and critical care nursing – pediatric. These certifications allow nurses to earn salaries commensurate with their advanced experience and credentials.

Highest Salary Locations for Trauma Nurses
National Median $66,292
Los Angeles, California $94,797
Houston, Texas $78,224
Phoenix, Arizona $76,235
Denver, Colorado $71,595
Dallas, Texas $70,269

Source: PayScale

Median Salary for ER Nurses by Career Experience

  • Entry Level: $58,010
  • Early Career: $60,659
  • Mid Career: $70,804
  • Experienced: $75,493
  • Late Career: $75,903
  • Source: PayScale

    Related Job Salaries
    Registered Nurse (RN) Certified Nurse Assistant Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Registered Nurse (RN), Operating Room Registered Nurse (RN), Critical Care
    $63,263 $27,818 $43,491 $70,457 $72,541

    Source: PayScale

    Trauma Nurse Resources

    • Society of Trauma Nurses STN is an international organization that advocates for optimum trauma care. RNs and nursing students alike may join to receive the association’s bimonthly Journal of Trauma Nursing, access to STN’s online community and the Mentor Match website, annual conference discounts, and professional development opportunities.
    • American Trauma Society For 50 years, ATS has advocated for a robust trauma care system, promoting trauma prevention and helping victims of trauma. Members include both institutions and individuals, including RNs, trauma physicians, students, and trauma program managers. Member benefits include advocacy opportunities, access to professional development trainings, community forums, and a career center.
    • Pediatric Trauma Society This organization supports trauma nurses and other allied health professionals who specialize in caring for young children. Member benefits include discounted registration for annual meetings, access to electronic newsletters and the PTS Investigator Database, and interdisciplinary networking opportunities.
    • Job Search allows visitors to explore a specialized repository of RN job listings. Nurses pay nothing to sign up for a account, which allows them to apply for jobs, receive job email alerts, and access other employment-related resources.
    • Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing BCEN is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping emergency, transport, and trauma nurses advance their professional skills through certification and recertification resources and tools. Candidates may seek certified emergency nurse, trauma-certified registered nurse, and certified transport registered nurse credentials. The organization also offers scholarships and career mentoring for nursing students.
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