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How Can I Become a Certified Emergency Nurse?

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue in emergency nursing. Read on to learn more about career options along with salary and licensure information.

What Is a Certified Emergency Nurse?

Emergency nurses, also known as trauma nurses, are specialized registered nurses (RNs) or nurse practitioners (NPs) who work as part of the healthcare team for acute illness and trauma patients. They often work in the emergency departments of hospitals and medical centers. RNs are often involved in the initial patient assessment process, performing duties such as taking vital signs, recording medical history, determining whether the patient has allergies, taking blood samples and bandaging wounds. Emergency room NPs have greater responsibilities, working directly with physicians to diagnose the patient, interpret clinical tests and develop a treatment plan, which can include prescription medication, further testing or surgical procedures.

The Emergency Nurses Association's Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing offers the optional Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) credential. The American Nurses Credentialing Center also offers an emergency nurse practitioner certification (ENP-BC) for advanced practice nurses who wish to show proficiency in this specialty. The following chart gives you an overview about career options as an emergency nurse.

Registered NurseNurse Practitioner
Degree Required Diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree Master's or doctoral degree
Education Field of Study Nursing Nurse Practitioner
Key Responsibilities Assess patient condition and prioritize patients for treatment; monitor patient status and respond to changes; assist physician with examination and procedures; administer medication and treatment Examine patient and make diagnosis; order diagnostic tests and analyze results; perform procedures and administer medication and treatment; assist emergency room (ER) physician with examination and treatment
Licensure and/or Certification Licensure as RN is required; board certification is available Licensure as RN is required; board certification in nurse practitioner is required; board certification in emergency nurse practitioner may be preferred
Job Growth (2018-2028) 12% for all registered nurses* 28% for all nurse practitioners*
Median Salary (2019) $74,990 for an emergency room RN** $112,440 for an emergency room NP**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Salary.com

What Would I Do as a Certified Emergency Nurse?

As an emergency nurse, you need to have a wide range of knowledge in order to effectively treat many different types of patients with a variety of issues. You need to be calm and able to make well-informed decisions under pressure. When a patient arrives, you must not only confront the medical emergency but also consider the patient's overall medical status. Because of the nature of acute and trauma care, you could work in many types of settings, including emergency rooms, ambulances, helicopters and poison control centers. Registered nurses can administer medications and operate medical monitoring equipment. You will generally provide assistance to the physician or nurse practitioner as well as monitoring patient status. Nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses who generally have more responsibility. As an NP, you would work with ER physicians as well as working on your own to diagnose and treat patients who come to the emergency room.

What Education Do I Need?

To become a registered nurse, you need to enroll in a nursing program at the associate's degree, bachelor's degree or diploma level. Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) programs typically take two years to complete, Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs take four and diploma programs take three. If you choose to enroll in a BSN program, you are prepared to continue your education in a master's degree program after obtaining some nursing experience. Though all nursing programs offer the same general classes and clinical experience necessary for passing the required National Council Licensure Examination for RNs, some programs may also offer courses in emergency medicine. Programs that specialize in emergency nursing are available at the certificate level (for current RNs) and master's degree level, but you don't need a master's degree to become a certified emergency nurse.

To become a nurse practitioner, you need to be licensed as a registered nurse and obtain either a master's or doctoral degree. It is often preferable that a candidate for a graduate degree in nurse practitioner have a bachelor's degree, but you may be able to find a graduate degree nurse practitioner program that offers a bridge program for RNs with an associate's degree.

How Do I Become Certified?

The Emergency Nurses Association's Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN) certifies nurses working in the emergency field of healthcare and offers the Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) credential (www.ena.org). To take the exam to become certified, you must be an RN in good standing. Although there are no experience requirements, the BCEN recommends that you have two years of experience in an emergency department. The BCEN also offers certifications for nurses seeking certifications in transport emergency medicine settings such as helicopters and ambulances.

The American Nurses Credentialing Center offers an emergency nurse practitioner certification (ENP-BC). To qualify for this credential, you must be an RN with an existing NP certification in acute care or other NP nursing specialty, hold a graduate NP degree, and complete required years of experience as an NP. You must also have completed minimum continuing education requirements and fulfill 2 other professional development requirements.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

RNs and NPs may also look for jobs in non-emergency settings. For instance, RNs may choose to work as cardiovascular nurses, genetics nurses, neonatology nurses or addictions nurses. They may also find jobs in public health promotion, working in community clinics to provide medical screenings or offer immunizations. Other options for advanced practice nurses include a career as a certified nurse midwife, who specialize in reproductive care, or a certified nurse anesthetist, who are trained to administer anesthesia during surgery and provide pre- and post-operative care. Like emergency NPs, they must hold a master's degree and be certified in their field.