What Does an ER Nurse Do?

ER nurses and doctor with patient on stretcher

Out of the many demanding nursing professions, 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. What does an ER nurse do and what’s the career pathway like? This career guide explains.

In This Guide:

What Does an ER Nurse Do? An Overview

So, what is an ER nurse, exactly? An emergency room nurse is a licensed nursing professional that addresses severe or potentially life-threatening medical problems in individuals coming to the ER. Unlike some nursing specialties, emergency room nursing involves treating a wide range of patient populations — from infants to the elderly, with varied medical conditions.

Many 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 perform physical assessments, develop nursing 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 act quickly — frequently assessing, diagnosing and treating almost simultaneously.

ER Nurse Responsibilities

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 procedures and initiate treatments 
  • Clean wounds and apply sutures
  • Draw blood, start intravenous lines and administer medications
  • Maintain patient records and collaborate with the health team

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 remain calm and compassionate while helping family members understand their loved one’s condition and prognosis.

Essential Skills and Characteristics of an ER Nurse

Many qualities beyond medical skills are valuable for an ER nurse to have — the ability to stay calm under pressure being one of the most critical. An ER nurse should also strive to cultivate the following skills:1

  • Communication skills
  • Compassion and empathy
  • Emotional resilience
  • Organizational skills
  • Physical stamina
  • Attention to detail
  • Critical thinking skills

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, often non-life-threatening health issues such as respiratory infections and sprained ankles.

ER nurses also work on search and rescue crews to stabilize rescued patients, as onsite medical staff on movie sets, at sporting events and on cruise ships.

How To Become an Emergency Room Nurse

Now that you know the answer to the question, What is an ER nurse? and you have a general idea of the typical ER nurses’ responsibilities, you may be thinking about becoming an ER nurse yourself. There are different paths to becoming an emergency room nurse. It begins with earning a nursing degree, of which there are several paths.

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.1 Once you are a licensed nurse, you can work toward an ER specialty and begin looking for job openings in urgent care clinics, emergency rooms and other critical care settings.

Once employed as an ER nurse, you may want to pursue board certification. The Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN) administers the specialty exam for certification as an ER nurse. You’ll need an active, unrestricted RN license to sit for the exam, and the BCEN also recommends having two years of experience prior to applying.2

What Degree Does an ER Nurse Need?

Regardless of specialty — whether pediatrics or ER nursing — all aspiring RNs must earn a nursing degree.1 There are multiple types of nursing degrees, including:

Generally, healthcare employers prefer to hire BSN-prepared nurses over nurses with associate degrees. This is because research has shown that greater levels of education contribute to more favorable patient outcomes. This is in part due to the more comprehensive nature of the BSN degree program.3

Nurses who earned an associate degree and wish to expand their employment opportunities and broaden their nursing knowledge may return to school for their BSN degree — enrolling in an RN to BSN program.  

How Much Does an ER Nurse Make?


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t offer salary data for emergency room nurses in particular. However, it does offer salary information for all types of RNs, combined. As of May 2022, registered nurses have a median annual salary of $81,220, according to the BLS.4

Career Outlook of an ER Nurse

Nursing has had a significant job outlook throughout the U.S. for quite some time, and this trend is expected to continue. The BLS estimates job growth for all types of RNs to be 6% from 2022 through 2032, faster growth than the average. This indicates that healthcare employers expect to hire about 177,400 new nurses during this time period.5

Grand Canyon University is an institutionally accredited provider of nursing education for aspiring and currently practicing nurses. The College of Nursing and Health Care Professions offers multiple nursing degree options, including the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) program. Fill out the form on this page to learn to learn more about our nursing degree options, including pre-licensure degrees. 

1 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2023, Sept. 6). How to become a registered nurse. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved Sept. 18, 2023. 

2 Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing. (n.d.). Eligibility. Retrieved Sept. 18, 2023.

3 American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2023, April). The impact of education on nursing practice. American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Retrieved Sept. 18, 2023.

4 The earnings referenced were reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Registered Nurses as of May 2022, retrieved on Sept. 18, 2023. Due to COVID-19, data from 2020 to 2022 may be atypical compared to prior years. BLS calculates the median using salaries of workers nationwide with varying levels of education and experience. It does not reflect the earnings of GCU graduates as Registered Nurses nor does it reflect the earnings of workers in one city or region of the country or a typical entry-level salary. Median income is the statistical midpoint for the range of salaries in a specific occupation. It represents what you would earn if you were paid more money than half the workers in an occupation, and less than half the workers in an occupation. It may give you a basis to estimate what you might earn at some point if you enter this career. Grand Canyon University can make no guarantees on individual graduates’ salaries. Your employability will be determined by numerous factors over which GCU has no control, such as the employer the graduate chooses to apply to, the graduate’s experience level, individual characteristics, skills, etc. against a pool of candidates.

5 COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 to 2022 may be atypical compared to prior years. Accordingly, data shown is effective September 2023, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Registered Nurses, retrieved on Sept. 18, 2023.

Approved by the associate dean of the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions on Dec. 18, 2023.

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.

Scroll back to top