Emergency Room Nurse

Discover ER nursing – an essential part of urgent healthcare. ER nurses play key roles in critical moments and various medical emergencies. This guide explores their vital responsibilities, qualifications, and career paths in detail. 

ER Nurse
Are you passionate about helping others in urgent and critical situations? Do you thrive in fast-paced environments and have the ability to remain calm under pressure? If so, a career as an Emergency Room (ER) nurse might be the perfect fit for you. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the role of an ER nurse, the necessary qualifications and skills, the salary prospects, and how to embark on this rewarding career path.

What Is an ER Nurse?

Emergency Room nurses, also known as ER nurses, trauma nurses, or critical care nurses, play a crucial role in providing immediate care to patients in the emergency department. Their primary responsibility is to stabilize patients before transferring them to specialized units or discharging them if they are medically stable. ER nurses encounter patients of all ages and backgrounds, who seek care for trauma, injuries, or acute-onset symptoms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were approximately 131 million emergency room visits in the United States in 2020. Out of these visits, 18.6 million patients were admitted to the hospital, while an additional 3.1 million were admitted to critical care units following their emergency room visit. ER nurses are responsible for triaging, treating, and stabilizing these patients, often working alongside a multidisciplinary team of medical professionals.

What Does an ER Nurse Do?

ER nursing is a challenging and fast-paced environment, as nurses must deal with a constantly changing set of patients with a wide range of ailments while working within a limited time frame. Emergency nurses work in a number of different settings including operating rooms, labor and delivery units, emergency departments, or inpatient units. Some ER nurses are floated to other units within the hospital, while others work exclusively in an emergency room setting. ER nurses perform a wide range of duties to ensure the timely and effective care of patients in the emergency department. These responsibilities include:

Triage and Assessment

One of the most critical tasks of an ER nurse is triaging patients upon their arrival in the emergency department. They use their clinical judgment to determine the urgency of each patient’s condition and prioritize their care accordingly. ER nurses must quickly assess patients’ vital signs, symptoms, and medical history to make informed decisions about the appropriate course of treatment.

Emergency Interventions

ER nurses are trained to provide immediate medical interventions to stabilize patients in critical condition. They may administer medications, perform CPR, conduct cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or assist in life-saving procedures such as tracheotomies and intubations. ER nurses must be skilled in using advanced medical equipment and techniques to monitor and treat patients effectively.

Wound Care and Minor Procedures

ER nurses are responsible for cleaning and dressing wounds, suturing lacerations, and performing minor medical procedures such as setting broken bones. They must have excellent manual dexterity and knowledge of sterile techniques to ensure the proper healing and prevention of infections.

Patient Education and Support

In addition to providing immediate medical care, ER nurses play a vital role in educating patients, their families, and caregivers about their diagnoses and treatment plans. They offer guidance on managing symptoms, following medication regimens, and accessing further healthcare resources. ER nurses must possess strong communication skills and empathy to effectively support patients during stressful and uncertain times.

Collaboration and Coordination

ER nurses work collaboratively with other healthcare professionals, including physicians, surgeons, radiologists, and laboratory technicians. They must effectively communicate patient information, coordinate diagnostic tests and procedures, and facilitate seamless transitions of care for patients requiring specialized interventions or hospital admission.

Summary of Steps

How to Become an ER Nurse

Becoming an ER nurse requires a combination of education, licensure, and experience. The following steps outline the path to becoming an ER nurse:


Attend Nursing School

Start by earning either an Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from an accredited nursing program.


Pass the NCLEX-RN

After completing your nursing program, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).


Obtain RN Licensure

Meet state requirements to become a registered nurse (RN) after earning your degree and passing the NCLEX-RN.


Gain Experience in Bedside Nursing

While it is possible to enter the ER directly after nursing school, some hospitals prefer ER nurses to have prior experience in bedside nursing.


Pursue Advanced Certification

Although not mandatory, obtaining advanced certification can enhance your skills and career prospects as an ER nurse.

Skills and Qualifications of an ER Nurse

To succeed as an ER nurse, certain skills and qualifications are necessary. These include:

Critical Thinking and Decision-Making

ER nurses must be able to think quickly and make sound decisions in high-pressure situations. They often face complex and rapidly changing patient conditions, requiring them to prioritize care and take decisive actions. Strong critical thinking skills are essential for assessing and managing patients’ needs effectively.

Calmness and Resilience

Working in the emergency department can be highly stressful and emotionally challenging. ER nurses must remain calm and composed in chaotic situations, demonstrating resilience and the ability to handle unexpected events and emergencies. They need to maintain their focus and provide care with a clear mind, even in the face of intense pressure.

Adaptability and Flexibility

The needs of ER patients can change rapidly, and the workload can vary greatly from one shift to another. ER nurses must be adaptable and flexible to handle unpredictable situations, manage multiple patients simultaneously, and adjust their priorities as needed. They should be comfortable with change and thrive in dynamic environments.

Effective Communication

Clear and effective communication is crucial for ER nurses to interact with patients, families, and the healthcare team. ER nurses must be able to convey complex medical information in a way that is easily understood by patients and their loved ones. They should also possess excellent listening skills to ensure they fully understand patients’ concerns and address them appropriately.

Compassion and Empathy

ER nurses often encounter patients and families in distressing and vulnerable situations. Compassion and empathy are vital qualities that allow them to provide not only medical care but also emotional support. ER nurses should approach each patient with kindness, respect, and a genuine desire to alleviate their suffering.

Types of ER Nurses

Just as there is wide variation between emergency department settings, so is there a wide variety of Emergency Nurses. Though all Emergency Nurses have some responsibilities in common, their individual duties also vary greatly. The roles listed below are not presented in any order of rank or importance. Many nurses will transition between the roles listed below over the course of their career, and some nurses will find they have a preference for one or more of them based on their own strengths and professional goals.

Trauma Nurse

Trauma Nurses are generally found in Trauma Centers, though they do sometimes work in Emergency Departments that are designated trauma centers. These nurses are frequently the first to see a patient who has sustained traumatic injuries, and they provide initial care for the trauma victim before the patient is transferred to the care of a Trauma Surgeon. In some settings, there may be a nurse or Paramedic assigned to stabilize victims of trauma, but the Trauma Nurse has the most comprehensive training in this area.

Triage Nurse

Critically ill patients are often taken to the Emergency Room by paramedics or EMTs, but some may be transported directly from the scene of an accident or other critical incident. A Triage Nurse is generally responsible for assessing these patients on arrival in the Emergency Department, determining what level of care is required, and coordinating their transfer to an appropriate area.

Flight Nurse

Flight Nurses work on a medevac helicopter. Though the specific duties of a Flight Nurse depend on particular circumstances, typical responsibilities would include administering critical care during transport from the scene to a hospital, as well as immediate care of trauma victims on board. When landing, Flight Nurses may set up portable procedures such as establishing IV catheters, drawing blood labs and administering medications. At the hospital, they prepare trauma patients for further evaluation and treatment.

Pediatric ED Nurse

Pediatric ED Nurses work in Emergency Departments that have a designated focus for treating children. They are responsible for assessing and treating children under the age of 18. They make triage decisions, administer emergency medications, assist in diagnosing and treating illness and injury, and help coordinate the patient’s care. Pediatric ED Nurses are especially important when there is no pediatrician on site, as the patient’s care must often be handled by nursing staff.

ED Float Nurse

ED Floaters may work in multiple departments within an Emergency Department or they may rotate among different shifts. They are the “jack of all trades” of Emergency Nurses. Because their primary focus is to fill gaps in coverage for other nurses, their job duties will vary widely depending on the needs of each department they are covering.

Geriatric ED Nurse

Geriatric ED Nurses are responsible for the care of the elderly in an Emergency Department, or for those who are chronically discharged to nursing homes. If they are working in the Emergency Department, they help triage patients, assess their condition, and provide necessary treatments. If they have a patient that is being cared for on a long-term basis, they also contribute to overall care planning and facilitate communication between nursing centers and physician offices.

Burn Center Nurse

Burn Centers are a fairly specialized subset of Emergency Departments, and the qualifications for a Burn Center Nurse can vary greatly. Some hospitals have a full-time nurse dedicated to burn care, while others may have nurses from other departments who perform this function on an as needed basis. In either case, the Burn Center Nurse is responsible for caring for patients with traumatic burns and are specially trained in burn care and burn victim resuscitation.
6 %
Job Growth
$ 89010
Mean Annual Wage
193 k
Job Openings

ER Nurse Salary

Emergency nursing is an area of specialization for RNs, which means that all emergency room nurses are registered nurses and many become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). According to the most recent data published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses earned an average annual salary of $89,010 – the equivalent of $42.80 per hour.

Highest Paying States for ER Nurses

ER nurse salaries vary by state, with some emergency room nurses earning substantially more in areas of high demand. The earning potential of an ER Nurse is also influenced by the type of emergency department setting in which they work. Emergency room nurses in the following states earn the highest average annual salary.
StateHourly WageMonthly WageAnnual Salary
Rhode Island$58.63$10,161$121,942
North Dakota$56.90$9,862$118,345
New York$55.30$9,585$115,030

ER Nurse FAQ

Are ER nurses in high demand?

ER nurses’ specialized skills in handling emergencies make them highly sought after. With constant demand for emergency care, staffing shortages, and evolving healthcare needs, their expertise remains crucial. The fast-paced nature of emergency departments necessitates their continuous presence, contributing to their consistently high demand in healthcare settings.

How many patients does an ER nurse see a day?

ER nurses typically attend to a varying number of patients per day, often depending on the hospital’s size, patient influx, and severity of cases. On average, they might handle between four to six patients per shift. However, this number can fluctuate significantly, especially during peak times or in larger ERs. The focus remains on ensuring every patient receives the necessary attention and care, even amidst a busy schedule.

Which is harder ICU or ER nursing?

CNA to RN programs can be a more cost-effective option than traditional RN degree alternatives. The cost of a CNA to RN Bridge program will vary by school and program curriculum, but can generally be anywhere between $3,000 and $10,000 per year.

What is the difference between ER nurse and an OR nurse?

ER nurses specialize in providing immediate care to patients in critical conditions in the emergency department. They handle a wide range of medical emergencies, often in fast-paced, high-stress environments. On the other hand, OR nurses work specifically in surgical settings, assisting surgeons during operations. They focus on preparing the operating room, ensuring sterility, and providing support before, during, and after surgical procedures.

Is an ER nurse considered critical care?

ER nurses are indeed considered part of critical care. They specialize in providing immediate and often life-saving care to patients in critical conditions. Their expertise in handling urgent situations, trauma care, and acute illnesses aligns with the critical care domain. While they work in fast-paced environments, their focus remains on stabilizing patients in critical conditions, making their role pivotal in critical care settings.

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