Emergency Nurse: Job Description and Career Information

Find out what skills are required to work as an emergency nurse. Learn about job growth and salary potential for this career, as well as some alternative career options.

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Career Definition for an Emergency Nurse

Emergency Nurses (ENs) are registered nurses (RNs) who provide immediate care to patients with critical, acute, and life-threatening conditions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 61% of nurses worked in hospitals in 2012, but ENs also may work at sports centers, health clinics and education centers. Their responsibilities include assisting physicians, monitoring patients, and helping with patient transport. Emergency nurses also may obtain patients' medical histories and provide injury prevention education.

Required Education A diploma or associate's degree in nursing as a minimum; bachelor's or master's degree for better opportunities
Job Duties Include assisting physicians, monitoring patients, helping with patient transport; providing injury prevention education
Mean Salary (2015) $72,980 (for nurses working in general medical and surgical hospitals)
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 16% growth (all registered nurses)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Emergency nurses typically graduate from an accredited nursing program with a diploma or associate's degree in nursing, but a bachelor's or master's degree in nursing may offer more opportunities and more competitive pay. Emergency nurses must also receive special training in emergency care and injury prevention

Licensure Requirements

Emergency nurses must obtain an RN license from their state board of nursing. This requires passing the National Council Licensure Examination. Some states may have additional requirements.

Required Skills

Emergency nurses work in hospitals and clinics where they must make quick decisions and provide immediate care to patients whose lives may be in danger. They must attend to patients with acute problems, which can range from a sore throat to childbirth or a heart attack. The pace of this job requires that emergency nurses have excellent communication and decision-making skills. They also must have stamina and a positive attitude to deal with the long hours and job stress.

Career and Economic Outlook

The BLS predicts that the number of employed registered nurses, including critical care and emergency nurses, will increase by 16% from 2014 to 2024. Nurses working in general medical and surgical hospitals earn an average annual salary of $72,980, according to BLS estimates published in May 2015. The BLS reports that because of high turnover among hospital nurses, many clinics and hospitals offer signing bonuses, family-friendly work schedules, or subsidized training to help bring qualified nurses to their facilities.

Alternative Career Options

Here are some examples of alternative career options:

Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists clean and polish teeth, take dental x-rays and explain tooth and gum-related issues to patients. Like registered nurses, it's common for dental hygienists to earn an associate's degree, and all dental hygienists must be licensed. Although licensure requirements vary by state, most hygienists must pass written and clinical exams. In May 2015, the BLS published the average salary for dental hygienists as $72,720. Employment opportunities in this field are expected to increase by 19% from 2014 to 2024, which is much faster than average, according to the BLS.

Emergency Medical Technician

Those who are interested in emergency care may want to explore an emergency medical technician (EMT) career. There are three levels of EMT, with responsibilities increasing by level. Entry-level EMTs, called EMT-Basics, respond to health emergencies and evaluate injured or ill patients on the scene. Advanced-level EMTs add administering intravenous fluids and some medications to their duties. Paramedics, the highest level of EMT, provide a range of pre-hospital care including, stitching wounds and other treating patients under the guidance of a physician.

Educational requirements vary by level, but typically include a 1-2 year program for EMTs and an associate's degree for paramedics. EMTs and paramedics must be licensed by the state in which they work. As of May 2015, the average salary for EMTs and paramedics was $35,430, according to the BLS. The BLS projects jobs in this field to grow by 24% from 2014 to 2024.

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