What Does an ER Nurse Do?

ER nurses and doctor with patient on stretcher

All nursing positions are demanding, but the role of an emergency room nurse stands out for its fast-paced environment. People who enjoy taking on challenges and have a passion for helping others might be energized by working as an ER nurse. These professionals must quickly assess the conditions of patients, prioritize their treatments and work with ER doctors and surgeons to save lives threatened by severe medical problems.

Like other nursing professionals, ER nurses typically choose their career because they desire meaningful work that enables them to make positive contributions to their community. If this describes you, you may want to consider earning your nursing degree.

An Overview of the Job of an ER Nurse

Most nursing professionals who work directly with patients follow a linear path of care. First, they assess patients’ medical histories and ask them questions. Next, they conduct exams, develop diagnoses and recommend courses of treatment.

However, nurses in the emergency room often do not have the luxury of following this linear path. Patients in the ER usually need emergency interventions to save their lives, so an ER nurse must frequently assess, diagnose and treat almost simultaneously.

Key Responsibilities of an ER Nurse

ER nurses must be prepared for anything that is thrown their way during a shift. Each shift may go a little differently, but in general, any of the following tasks may be included:

  • Triage and stabilize incoming patients
  • Perform minor medical procedures, such as setting broken bones
  • Clean wounds and apply sutures
  • Draw blood, start intravenous lines and administer medications
  • Maintain patient records
  • Transfer stable patients to hospital beds

Educating patients and family members is another important part of this job. After patients are stabilized, nurses must help them understand their diagnoses and treatments. ER nurses also frequently interact with worried family members. They must display calm and compassion while helping family members understand their loved one’s condition and prognosis.

Essential Skills and Characteristics of an ER Nurse

Many skills and qualities beyond medical competencies are valuable for an ER nurse to have–one of the most crucial qualities being the ability to remain calm under pressure. An ER nurse should also be:

  • Committed to lifelong learning
  • Able to think well on his or her feet
  • A good communicator who can work well with people from a range of cultures and with varying personalities
  • A leader who can inspire and motivate her or his colleagues
  • Compassionate and empathetic
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Common Employers of Emergency Room Nurses

While it’s commonly assumed that emergency room nurses work in the ERs of hospitals, you can often find these professionals in other settings as well. Many work in urgent care clinics, where they treat patients with urgent but not overly serious health issues, such as respiratory infections and sprained ankles. Urgent care nurses tend to have a great deal of autonomy.

Of course, there are differences from one hospital to the next. Common injuries and cases that ER nurses work with vary across regions and urban versus rural locations. Most frequently-seen cases at a hospital are often dependent upon local industries, cultures, landscape, and other factors.

ER nurses also work in schools and universities, on search and rescue crews to stabilize rescued patients, and even as on-site medics on movie sets, in sporting arenas and on cruise ships.

Pathway to Becoming an Emergency Room Nurse

Individuals enter the nursing field via different paths. Some begin by earning an associate’s degree through a two-year program, usually offered at a community or junior college. Many of these graduates progress to enrollment in a registered nurse (RN) to bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program, in which they earn a more prestigious four-year degree. Other individuals enter a pre-licensure bachelor’s degree program directly.

After earning a nursing degree, the next step is to earn a nursing license. All aspiring nurses are required to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) before they can work as nurses.* Once you are a fully-licensed nurse, you can work toward an ER specialty. It’s important for interested nurses to look for job openings in urgent care clinics, emergency rooms and other critical care settings.

Beyond this stage, earning further certifications will make you a more competitive job applicant and better qualified to work toward favorable patient outcomes. You’ll need an RN license to apply to the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN) as well as a recommended two years of experience practicing in your area of interest.**

This organization offers various certification options, including Certified Emergency Nurse, Certified Pediatric Emergency Nurse and Certified Flight Registered Nurse. Once you are eligible and your application is approved, you can start to prepare for the certifying exam. While all this may seem like a lot of steps, being a BCEN-certified emergency room nurse can put you well ahead in your nursing career.

Grand Canyon University is a leading provider of high-quality nursing education for aspiring and currently practicing nurses. The College of Nursing and Health Care Professions offers a range of degree options, including the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (Pre-Licensure) and the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN). Use the Request Info button above to begin your exciting academic journey at GCU.


Retrieved From: 

*National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc., Nursing Licensure in March 2021

**Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing, Certification Eligibility FAQ in March 2021

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.


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