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How to Become an Emergency Room Nurse in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become an emergency room nurse. Learn about education requirements, job duties, licensure and certification requirements to find out if this is the career for you.

What Does An Emergency Room Nurse Do?

Emergency room nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who assist doctors and other medical staff and provide direct care to patients. They commonly work in hospital emergency rooms, but may also work in other settings that require immediate care, such as sporting events, in ambulances or in helicopters. When patients arrive, they help assess the needs of each individual and determine the treatment order, and they may assist in performing tests on patients. In an emergency room setting, there are no scheduled appointments, so emergency room nurses must be prepared to deal with a wide range of injuries and illnesses as patients arrive. Because they treat patients who have been in accidents, they may spend much of their time working with critically injured patients, providing life-saving care.

The following chart gives you an overview of the career requirements for emergency room nurses.

Degree Required Diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Nursing
Key Skills Stamina, compassion, attention to detail, critical thinking
Licensure and/or Certification Licensure as an RN is required; board certification as an emergency nurse is available
Job Growth (2018-2028) 12% (for all registered nurses)*
Median Salary (2018) $71,730 (for all registered nurses)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What is an Emergency Room Nurse?

Emergency room (ER) nurses work flexible hours, often at night and on weekends, and must be able to perform well under stressful conditions. As an ER nurse, you'll work with patients who might be confused, disoriented, unconscious or semi-conscious. You'll be responsible for administering medication, tracking vital signs, keeping family members informed and assisting doctors during ER procedures. Patients with serious or life threatening conditions depend on the ability of the emergency room staff, so you'll need to be well-trained.

Step 1: Consider Your Degree Options

To become an ER nurse you must complete a bachelor's degree program, an associate's degree program or another approved nursing degree program. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) a Bachelor of Science in Nursing is a requirement for many career paths, as well as for graduate study (www.bls.gov). Such a degree could lead to greater advancement opportunities.

Step 2: Earn Your Nursing Degree

Educational programs for ER nurses cover topics such as physiology, chemistry, nutrition, behavioral sciences and psychology. A few other courses you may encounter are contemporary healthcare issues, pathophysiology and research methods. You can expect to participate in supervised clinical experiences as well as classroom lectures. Associate's programs will take you approximately two years to complete, while bachelor's programs are usually four years in length.

Step 3: Become a Registered Nurse

Upon completion of a nursing program, you'll be prepared to take the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses. You also may need current certification in advanced cardiac life support (ACLS), basic life support (BLS), trauma nursing core course (TNCC) and pediatric advanced life support techniques (PALS) as well as phlebotomy skills, centerline and IV skills and advanced cardiac monitoring.

Step 4: Find an Emergency Room Nurse Job

As an ER nurse, you might end up working in a variety of settings in addition to hospitals. According to Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow, you could be employed by poison control centers, research institutes, hospital transport companies and even cruise ships (www.nursesource.org). As of May 2015, the BLS reported that nursing jobs within hospitals, where many ER nurses find employment, would not see as much growth as nursing jobs at other facilities, such as outpatient or long-term rehabilitation centers. However, the overall job growth for nursing in general was rising at an above average rate across all industries.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

You may consider continuing your education in order to advance your career. Many schools offer continuing education programs for nurses with associate's degrees. Enrolling in a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program is another possibility to consider. Certification is another route you could take. The Emergency Nurses Association offers a Certified Emergency Nurse credential to registered nurses who pass the exam (www.ena.org).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

EMTs and paramedics also provide emergency medical care to those who are suffering from illness or injury. They usually travel by ambulance to the scene of an accident or injury to assess the affected person's medical condition, and they may be responsible for providing medical care while transporting individuals to the hospital. They must complete some postsecondary training, although a degree is not required. Licensed vocational and practical nurses must obtain postsecondary diplomas and perform more rudimentary nursing tasks than registered nurses.