Emergency Nurse: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Dec 30, 2019

Emergency room (ER) nurses, help provide urgent medical care for patients. Learn more about the ER nurse job description and ER nurse duties to see if the job is right for you.

ER Nurse Job Description and Career Overview

Emergency nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who help provide care to patients in urgent medical situations. Emergency nurses must first pursue a nursing degree, typically a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), and take an exam to become a licensed nurse. Then, they can find jobs in hospitals or medical clinic emergency rooms.

Educational Requirements BSN preferred; associate's degree or diploma programs possible
Other Requirements National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN) license
Average Salary (2019) $66,391*
Job Growth Outlook (2018-2028) 12% for all registered nurses**

Source: *Payscale.com; **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does an ER Nurse Do?

Emergency nurses generally work in emergency rooms in hospitals or clinics, caring for patients who are in urgent need of medical attention. This can encompass a wide range of situations that they'll need to know how to treat, from wounds or injuries to cardiovascular or gastrointestinal issues. For example, one patient may come in suffering from burns or food poisoning, and the next patient may come in having an allergy or asthma attack. Emergency nurses work on their feet all day and work various hours, including nights and weekends.

ER Nurse Duties and Responsibilities: Examples

The duties of an ER nurse may include the following:

  • Triage (assign degrees of urgency and order of treatment) to patients so those who have more critical issues get care first
  • Take patients' vital signs
  • Administer medication
  • Record patients' symptoms
  • Help doctors with medical procedures
  • Provide education and support to patients and families

In addition to the job duties that emergency nurses are required to perform, they have other responsibilities that will help them do their jobs as effectively as possible. For example, it's important for ER nurses to:

  • Remain calm under pressure
  • Think and act quickly in urgent situations
  • Work and communicate well with the doctors and the rest of the medical team
  • Be compassionate with patients and their families who may be upset

Role of ER Nurse v. Role of Trauma Nurse

ER nursing and trauma nursing have similarities, but it's important to note that they are not the same thing. The role of the nurse in the emergency department is to generally treat conditions that people enter the emergency room for, like pains, broken bones, wounds and other issues that aren't immediately life-threatening. However, trauma nurses usually work in the trauma center section of emergency rooms or intensive care units. Patients who enter trauma centers usually arrive with critical life-threatening issues. For example, someone who was in a serious car accident might get transported to the trauma center. Trauma nurses have basic and advanced skills in life support, including CPR and the use of a defibrillator.

ER Nurse Requirements: Education and Licensing

First, aspiring nurses must pursue a degree through a nursing program at a college or university. Most employers will prefer a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), although some will accept an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN). Note that some hospitals and institutions also have RN diploma programs to become a nurse, but degree programs are typically more helpful.

Once students graduate from one of these programs, they'll need to take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN) to get their nursing license. The NCLEX-RN has up to 265 questions and can take 6 hours to complete. Then, nurses should look for employment in emergency rooms if they want to become emergency nurses. They'll gain ER-specific training on the job. However, nursing students who know they'd like to pursue ER careers should try to get experience during nursing school rotations, if possible.

ER Nurse Certifications

Emergency room nurses can seek certifications that recognize their ER nursing proficiency. Certifications aren't required to get emergency nursing jobs but they can be helpful. One relevant certification is offered by the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN): the Certified Emergency Nurse exam. It is recommended, but not required, that nurses have two years of experience in emergency nursing before taking the exam. The exam covers nursing for various emergencies, including cardiovascular, respiratory, neurological, wounds, toxicology, psychosocial emergencies and more. Every four years, nurses will need to get recertified through continuing education or an exam.

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