Emergency Nursing: Managed Chaos

Consider a career in emergency nursing.

Emergency nursing is that specialization that cares for patients of all ages in the initial phase of acute illness or trauma. These nurses must possess skills to enable them to quickly assess patients, identify life threatening problems, and quickly solve them.

While nurses in most other areas of specialization administer care based on a physician’s diagnosis, emergency nurses are frequently required to provide care to patients who have not yet been diagnosed because they have not yet seen a physician. They must possess skills to operate advanced monitoring and treatment equipment. And in some cases, they may even order tests and medication based on guidelines or standing orders created by the hospital’s emergency physicians.

Emergency nurses must have both a broad and deep knowledge of heath care to be successful in their field as they are called upon to treat a wide range of illnesses and injuries from minor to complex in a wide range of patient populations.

Traits of an Emergency Nurse

Not only do emergency nurses need a broad and deep knowledge of health care, but there are also several personal traits that can assist them in being successful in their field. Nurses who need a structured work environment might not be a good fit for this field. Emergency nurses are often required to accelerate their pace of work from 0 to 100 MPH in just seconds. They need the ability to observe, assess patients, prioritize, multi-task, quickly think on their feet, and remain calm in an often chaotic work environment.

Nurses working in such environments also need to possess skills for dealing with people from a wide range of backgrounds. Many of their patients are critically ill or have suffered a severe injury or trauma. So emergency nurses often encounter patients and family members experiencing a wide range of emotions. The ability to be assertive while maintaining a sense of humor can help in many situations. Having good interpersonal skills and customer service skills are crucial.

Nurses in this field will also need stamina as well as good coping skills. A career in emergency nursing can be very demanding both physically and mentally.

Roles for Emergency Nurses

Those specializing in emergency nursing can choose from a variety of roles. In addition to acting in the role of patient caregiver in numerous settings, they can act as educators in public and health care settings. They can also work as administrators, managers, and researchers in a variety of settings where they work to improve emergency health care.

Emergency Nursing Practice Settings

Emergency nurses practice in a variety of settings. While many work in hospital emergency departments, others may work in one of countless other settings. Some examples include the following:

  • Other hospital departments
  • Urgent care facilities
  • Ground transport services
  • Flight transport (helicopter and airplane)
  • Poison control centers
  • Crisis intervention centers
  • Prisons and other correctional facilities
  • Poison control centers
  • Crisis intervention centers
  • Telephone triage centers
  • Prisons and other correctional facilities
  • Cruise ships
  • Medical equipment companies
  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Research companies
  • Sports arenas
  • Concerts

They can literally work anywhere there is the potential for a medical emergency.

Emergency Nurse Qualifications & Certifications

The only requirement for being an emergency nurse is to be licensed as a registered nurse (RN). Many never specialize because they must be more of an advanced generalist, ready to deal with virtually any illness or injury they might encounter.

Instead, many learn the skills needed to be successful as an emergency nurse through formal orientation or internship programs offered at the hospital or medical facility where they work. Such programs are often offered to newly licensed RNs due to the shortage of available nurses.

Ideally, such programs will last at least 3-6 months. Those in the program should have a preceptor, and the program should include classroom work, labs, and clinical time. If you are a newly licensed RN and have been hired into an emergency department, such a program is practically a must.

If you are hired into a non-emergency department but still have aspirations of becoming an emergency nurse, there is much you can do to prepare for the transition. Working in a critical care environment, a medical-surgical environment, or even a step-down or intermediate care unit will help prepare you for providing emergency care. At the same time, you can educate yourself in emergency nursing by joining the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) , reading related publications, attending related conferences, and completing continuing education offerings in the field.

Even after getting a position in emergency nursing, it is best to continue to immerse yourself in the topic. Continue to take classes. Involve yourself in unit-based committees as well as ENA committees at the local, state, and national levels.

Once you have a couple of years of experience in the field, you should consider becoming credentialed in the field as a Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN), Certified Flight Registered Nurse (CFRN), or Certified Pediatric Emergency Nurse (CPEN).