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ER Nursing Requirements, Duties and Outlook

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an ER nurse. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

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Essential Information

Emergency room (ER) nurses are often the first to attend to patients with urgent, life-threatening conditions. These nurses must be able to quickly and accurately diagnose problems, then prescribe and execute treatments. ER nurses need an undergraduate degree in nursing and registered nurse (RN) licensure.

Required Education Associate's or bachelor's degree
Licensure and Certification Nursing license required; CPR and life support certification required
Job Growth (2012-2022)* 19% for all registered nurses
Median Salary (2014)** $59,659 for ER registered nurses

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

Education Requirements

A career as an ER nurse begins with a degree in nursing. Although aspiring nurses have the option of pursuing an associate's or a bachelor's degree, the type of degree chosen may impact their employment prospects. An Associate of Science in Nursing can be earned in either two or three years, while a Bachelor of Science in Nursing is a 4-year course of study and involves a wider array of subjects. Regardless of the degree program chosen, it should include instruction in:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Human Growth & Development
  • Sociology

While it isn't necessary for most job openings, a potential ER nurse can pursue a Master of Science in Nursing. At many schools, a post-graduate nursing degree offers students a variety of specialties to choose from. Among the more common options are:

  • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
  • Adult/Geriatric Nurse Practitioner
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Acute Care Nurse Practitioner

Licensing and Certification Requirements

Nurse licensure is mandatory to practice and requires candidates to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) offer different voluntary nursing certifications. Most nurses should consider earning a Basic Cardiac Life Support (BCLS) certification, which can be done through a class that takes around four hours. Some employers may also require Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) and Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) training.

Job Duties

An ER nurse is charged with determining patient care based on the patient's condition - both physical and psychological - as well as the overall flow of incoming patients to the emergency room. The nurses work with physicians to determine the best course of patient care and when patients should be discharged or transferred to other wards in the hospital, like the intensive care unit (ICU).

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that job opportunities for registered nurses overall will increase by 19% between 2012 and 2022, which is faster than many other careers in the United States ( The number of job openings may vary depending on the location and organization. In some regions, older nurses are nearing retirement age with fewer younger workers to replace them meaning those areas could provide excellent opportunities for new nurses.

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