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Emergency Nurse: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

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

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Essential Information

Emergency nurses provide rapid assessment and treatment to patients in the initial phase of illness or trauma and often in life-threatening situations. Emergency nurses usually hold an undergraduate degree in nursing and most often work in hospital emergency rooms and trauma centers. Emergency nurses may seek optional specialty certification to enhance their job prospects.

Required EducationAssociate's degree at minimum, bachelor's degree required for some positions
Additional Requirements State nursing license; specialty certification from a national organization may be required by some employers
Projected Job Growth* (2012-2022) 19% for registered nurses
Average Salary* (2013) $68,910 annually for registered nurses

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Emergency Nurse Job Description

Emergency nurses specialize in assessing, intervening and stabilizing a variety of trauma and illnesses with decisive action. Due to the range of medical conditions that may require urgent treatment and care, they must be knowledgeable about general as well as specific health issues.

Hospitals and independent emergency departments are the most common employers of emergency nurses. Other facilities that may employ them include cruise ships, prisons and crisis intervention centers. With more specialized training, an emergency nurse can become a transport nurse who administers treatment to patients being transported by airplane or helicopter.

Job Duties

The most important responsibility for an emergency nurse is understanding triage, which is a method of prioritizing injuries based on medical need. An emergency nurse must have the ability to make quick and accurate assessments about incoming patients, including both physical and mental health conditions.

Time management is crucial in this job. Along with triage, emergency nurses must quickly ascertain the following information from incoming patients:

  • Identify the medical problem
  • Document medical history
  • Check for any allergies and current medications
  • Obtain height, weight, body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure

Other responsibilities include moving patients, taking blood samples, cleaning and bandaging wounds, administering medications and maintaining proper supplies of medical equipment.

As with other health care professionals, emergency nurses are expected to comply with protocols, procedures and safety policies of a health care facility. Emotional stability, communication, leadership, sympathy and attention to detail are traits common among successful emergency nurses.

Education Requirements

Emergency nurses are usually registered nurses with specialized training and education. Many supplement their training with certification in specific areas of emergency health care. To become an emergency nurse, a person must earn an associate degree in nursing, a bachelor's of science degree in nursing or a diploma from a hospital with a nursing program.

Like many occupations, a person with a higher degree has better opportunity for advancement. Emergency nurses continually update their education to maintain knowledge of new procedures. A 2000 report from Nurse Source shows degrees held by registered nurses:

  • Diploma, 22.6%
  • Associates degree, 34.3%
  • Baccalaureate degree, 32.7%
  • Masters or Doctorate, 10.2%


After obtaining a nursing degree from an approved nursing program it is compulsory to complete the National Council Licensure Examination before a nursing license can be issued. Licensure can vary according to state so it is recommended that you contact your state's board of nursing to obtain additional information.

Another beneficial certification sought by emergency nurses is the Certified Emergency Nurse certificate administered by the Board of Certification in Emergency Nursing. The professional board focuses on medical treatments specific to emergency nursing.

Salary Information and Job Outlook

Registered nurses comprise the largest part of health care occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). From 2012 to 2022, the BLS reports registered nurse job opportunities are expected to grow by 19%. Data from the BLS shows the average annual salary for a registered nurse was $68,910 in 2013.

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