Newsroom/Online learning tips/ Working as an emergency room nurse

Working as an emergency room nurse

September 05, 2017 · 8 min read · By ASU Online
Nursing is a diverse field, with many different certifications, degrees and career paths. Registered nurses who are looking for new opportunities to grow in their careers may consider pursuing an RN to BSN program.

Pursue an RN to BSN

Nurses with a BSN may have more job opportunities and be considered for more competitive roles than nurses who don’t have a bachelor’s degree in nursing. That’s because research shows that BSN-prepared nurses have better patient outcomes, including lower mortality rates and lower failure to rescue rates.

One advanced career path nurses may want to consider is emergency room nursing. Emergency nurses work in a wide variety of environments, from the typical emergency room (ER) to temporary field hospitals. No matter where they serve, they are instrumental in ensuring the well-being of their patients. These medical professionals provide essential support and care. At the same time, they deliver advanced medical treatment under frequently shifting circumstances. Emergency room nursing is a highly demanding and very rewarding career path for individuals who are up to the challenge.

Many hospitals and organizations require a nurse to hold a BSN or earn a BSN within a specific amount of time in order to become an emergency room nurse. Emergency room nurses may also benefit from earning specific certifications related to emergency care.

Take the next step on your nursing path

Whether you’re interested in growing in your career as an emergency room nurse or going on to specialize in a different subcategory of nursing, a BSN can provide you with the educational background necessary for growing your career in this important field. With a BSN, you may be able to expand your career opportunities and set yourself up for advanced study and further growth.

Learn about the admission requirements and application process for the RN to BSN nursing program from ASU Online to prepare to advance your career.


What does an ER nurse do?

Emergency room nurses work on the front lines of the hospital to save lives and manage difficult situations. When a patient arrives at the emergency room after suffering a heart attack, catastrophic injury or another medical issue, nurses provide critical care and perform triage to manage priorities for treating patients.

ER nurses need to act swiftly to observe and assess patients. Then, they must treat the patient’s most critical concerns in a time-sensitive manner. The conditions they see and treat can vary widely from one patient to the next, and they cannot predict who might walk through their doors at any moment.

If the patient is accompanied by loved ones when they arrive at the hospital, those friends and family members will want to know what the patient needs and how they’re faring. While treating the patient is the emergency room nurse’s first concern, understanding and responding to the questions of those who accompany the patient is important, too.


How much does an emergency room nurse make?

The median ER nurse salary is $75,655, according to data reported by in 2020, with a range of $67,566 to $84,022. PayScale reported a wider potential salary range of $50,306 to $96,907 for emergency room nurses.

Outside of emergency nursing, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a 2020 median pay for registered nurses of $75,330 per year, which is not far from the median salary for nurses specializing in emergency care.


Is emergency nursing the right path for you?

Emergency room nursing could be the right career fit if you thrive in fast-paced, high-pressure environments. If you’re energized by unpredictable scenarios and delivering quality patient care, this field might be for you.

If you’re a registered nurse who’s looking to develop a broader understanding and grow your medical knowledge, ASU Online's RN to BSN curriculum can help you get there.

On the other hand, if you’re interested in helping medical institutions prepare for extreme emergencies at a systemwide level, there are other educational opportunities that can help you achieve that goal.


Do you have the skills to be an emergency room nurse?

You might be suited for this career if you can think quickly while keeping your cool under pressure. The emergency room job description for nurses entails:

  • Compassion.
  • Fast response times.
  • Resilience.
  • Resourcefulness.

There are various nursing specialties that may be required in an emergency setting. Some of them are trauma support and critical care. To deliver treatment effectively, triage nurses must act quickly sorting patients with tact and care based on:

  • Demands of other patients.
  • Doctor availability.
  • Severity of the patients’ medical conditions.

Emergency room nurses must also possess a strong aptitude for time management. These crucial staff members have to balance multiple tasks and functions for patients who have time-sensitive medical conditions. Priorities can change in an instant. As front-line medical workers, ER nurses have a crucial job to do as they respond to rapidly shifting patient demands.

Thoroughness is also important for emergency room nurses. The other medical workers on their team need to know that they have all the information required to provide proper treatment. As such, staying organized is also imperative in this occupation. The nature of the job is that there will be slower times as well as moments with high patient volumes. ER nurses must be prepared to adapt to changing circumstances quickly. A large number of cases can arrive in short succession, rapidly altering the scope of their work and their required responsibilities.

Emergency departments are also, by their nature, highly collaborative. To best support their patients, emergency room nurses cannot work alone. They must communicate carefully and deliberately with other medical staff and the patients under their care, as well as any loved ones who are accompanying the patient and supporting their treatment.


What kind of degree does an ER nurse need?

An ER nurse needs to have either an associate or a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

To become an emergency room nurse, you need to be a registered nurse who has passed the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX). Specialized ER nurses can earn their Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) credential from the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN). The CEn or BCEN is not required to be an ER nurse, but can help when pursuing specialized careers, like becoming a certified flight nurse. Other potential areas of focus may require you to achieve designations such as:

Certified flight registered nurse.
Certified pediatric emergency nurse.
Certified transport registered nurse.
Trauma certified registered nurse.


Do emergency room nurses need a BSN degree?

Becoming a staff nurse in an emergency room might not require a Bachelor of Science in nursing degree, but it is beneficial. According to the Emergency Nurses Association, some emergency departments will hire and train new graduates, while others will not. Earning a BSN can give health care organizations added confidence in your abilities by demonstrating that you have a broad-based education.

In some states, you need to get your BSN to continue working as a nurse. New York state’s “BSN in 10” legislation requires RNs to earn their bachelor’s degree in 10 years or less after receiving their nursing license. Increasingly, medical institutions will require nurses to hold BSNs, and those who have a bachelor’s degree will likely be favored in hiring decisions, especially at Magnet hospitals.

A BSN can also help you grow throughout your nursing career. By introducing you to a wider variety of topics, a BSN can help you find specialties that appeal to your specific abilities and interests. For instance, you might find that you’re more suited to being an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse.


What future career opportunities are open to emergency room nurses with a BSN degree?

A BSN can provide you with a solid foundation for pursuing your master’s in nursing on the way to becoming a nurse practitioner or other advanced nursing positions. After earning a BSN, emergency room nurses can achieve advanced degrees that will help them grow their careers in new directions. Three popular choices are to:

  • Become an emergency nurse practitioner.
  • Manage nursing staff.
  • Teach nursing.

For example, ASU Online's Master of Science in nursing prepares nurses to pursue leadership roles in the field. Some potential career options you can pursue after earning this degree include lead nurse, nurse manager and nurse supervisor. Earning a Master of Science in nursing education is another option which can provide nurses with the academic background necessary to teach nursing.


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