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ER Nurse Certification and Degree Program Information

Individuals interested in becoming emergency room (ER) nurses must receive their training through a nursing program. RN programs are available at the associate and bachelor's levels; master's-level programs for advanced practice nurses are also available.

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Essential Information

All nursing programs emphasize clinical care skills and prepare students for nursing licensure. ER nurses must be licensed and may go on to obtain the Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) credential.

An associate degree in nursing prepares students to work as an entry-level registered nurse; the intent of the bachelor's degree in nursing is to help students prepare to work in supervisory or managerial positions. Bachelor's programs will accept RNs who already have completed their associate's. Programs may require students to complete an externship.

Master's program are also available. These programs last 18-24 months and offer students the ability to specialize in areas like nurse practitioner, health care administration, nurse anesthesia and nurse education.


Associate Degree in Nursing

The associate program, which is offered by community colleges and technical schools, includes courses in social and biological sciences, liberal arts and nursing. Nursing courses help students develop essential clinical skills through classroom and laboratory instruction. These skills are later applied at several supervised externships.

Coursework for an associate degree in nursing emphasizes proper patient care, professionalism and an understanding of the human body, which is needed while working in the emergency room. Courses that provide this knowledge include:

  • Nursing theory
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Microbiology
  • Medical terminology
  • Nutrition
  • Medical ethics and law

Bachelor's Degree in Nursing

Registered nurses who currently work in the field and hold an associate degree may earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) through an accelerated program known as the RN-to-BSN program. Students are only responsible for completing the core nursing courses along with any general electives that were not taken at the associate level.

Program coursework tends to be focused more in the areas of management, communication, leadership and critical thinking. Courses may include:

  • Nurse management
  • Community health nursing
  • Nursing research
  • Patient assessment techniques
  • Public health issues

Master's Degree in Nursing

An RN-to-MSN program is designed for registered nurses who want to earn their Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) immediately after obtaining their BSN. This accelerated program offers students the option of specializing in such areas of the medical field as nurse practitioner, health care administrator, nurse anesthetist or nurse educator.

A master's degree in nursing covers a wide range of courses since students can specialize in different areas. For example, the health care administrator option contains just business courses, while the nurse practitioner option contains strictly medical courses. Other examples of courses include:

  • Advanced health assessment
  • Pathophysiology
  • Health systems management
  • Case management
  • Advance practice nursing
  • Disease prevention techniques

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies ER nurses among registered nurses. From 2014-2024, this group was projected to see a 16% growth in employment opportunities. The median annual wage of registered nurses was $67,490 in May 2015.

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After completing a master's degree or a bachelor's degree in nursing, graduates may seek employment as a:

  • Acute care nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist
  • Health care administrator
  • Nursing professor
  • Certified registered nurse anesthetist
  • Nursing unit manager or director of nursing
  • Head nurse

Continuing Education Information

Associate degree graduates must pass a national licensing exam known as the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN, before obtaining employment. Applicants who pass the exam receive their RN licensure and may work as registered nurses. While working, ER nurses are encouraged to continue their education by acquiring a bachelor's degree at a 4-year college or university.

After obtaining RN licensure, nurses are eligible to take the ER nurse certification exam. This exam, administered by the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN), tests prospective ER nurses on emergency triage techniques, general knowledge of human anatomy and injuries and professional ethics. To be eligible for the CEN exam, candidates must be currently registered nurses with unrestricted licenses. Two years of nursing experience is also recommended but not required. Those holding the LPN designation are not eligible for the ER nursing certification exam. Those holding CEN credentials will need to fulfill continuing education requirements to renew their certification.

Graduates of a bachelor's degree in nursing are also eligible to sit for the BCEN certification exam to obtain the CEN credential. Certification is renewed every four years either by retaking the exam or obtaining a set amount of continuing education credits. Although the process is voluntary, most employers prefer their employees to become certified. Graduates of a bachelor's of nursing program may also continue their education and earn a master's degree.

Individuals who have a master's degree can decide to become acute care or trauma nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists or pediatric nurse practitioners. They must become certified in order to practice. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP-BC) certification. To be eligible for this exam, candidates must hold a master's or higher degree from an accredited acute care nurse practitioner program and hold an active RN license in the state where he or she wishes to practice. Continuing education may be required to renew the ACNP-BC designation.

Other certification options are available for other nurse practitioner specialties, like nurse anesthetists. The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) offers several computer-based certification exams, depending on the applicant's area of interest. The National Board on Certification and Recertification of Nurse Anesthetists awards the Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) credential to individuals who pass a written exam.

To become an ER nurse, students should first complete an associate's degree to become a registered nurse (RN). Afterwards, they may earn professional certification to specialize in emergency room nursing.

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