Thank you for your interest in emergency nursing, the nursing specialty that encompasses caring for patients of all age groups and conditions, from delivering babies and resuscitating trauma arrests to administering medication. The pace of emergency nursing also varies from slow to hyperdrive, and it can change within minutes.
Is emergency nursing right for me?
If you like variety and complexity, emergency nursing has it. Some personal characteristics that will serve you well as an emergency nurse include:
- Ability to shift gears and accelerate your pace as needed
- Good observation, assessment, and prioritization skills
- Multi-tasking ability
- Good interpersonal and customer service skills
- Good personal coping skills
- Assertive patient advocate
- Ability to maintain calm amidst chaos
- Good sense of humor
- Ability to think fast and on your feet
A 2015 Chicago Tribune story provides an overview of emergency nursing as a career.
Where do emergency nurses practice?
Emergency nurses can practice in any of the following places:
- Hospital emergency departments
- Schools of nursing/universities/colleges
- Research/research institutes
- Emergent care centers
- EMS/Prehospital transport
- Flight nursing in helicopters/airplanes
- Poison control centers
- Telephone triage
- Crisis intervention centers
- Prisons/correctional facilities
- Federal and state governmental agencies
Can I get a job in an emergency department as a new graduate?
Nursing students and new graduates frequently ask how to "get in" to the emergency department. Given the current shortage of available nurses, many emergency departments are hiring new nurses and training them in the skills needed for successful careers in the emergency department.
What if I do get an emergency nursing job as a new graduate?
If you have the opportunity to work in an emergency setting right out of school, look for a hospital or medical facility that has a formal orientation or internship program in place, geared toward non-emergency nurses. Ideally, the program should include a stable preceptor arrangement and a mixture of classroom, skills labs and preaccepted clinical time. The length of orientation should be flexible but 3-6 months at a minimum, and you should not be counted as part of the emergency department staffing numbers until your orientation is complete. Talk with human resources personnel or the emergency department manager to discuss an orientation program. If your prospective employer cannot offer this support to you as a new graduate, you should seriously consider whether you can make a successful transition into the emergency department.
What if I don't get an emergency nursing job as a new graduate?
Some emergency departments do not hire new graduates because the time-critical nature of emergency situations requires someone with a firm foundation of basic nursing skills. However, this should not dissuade you if a career in the emergency department is what you really want. There are a number of opportunities new graduates can pursue to gain the knowledge and experience necessary to obtain a position in the emergency department. Working in another area of nursing for a year or two prior to specializing in emergency nursing can give you invaluable experience to help pave your path to emergency nursing:
- Experience in a critical care environment will help you gain the knowledge and skills necessary for life and death resuscitation scenarios.
- Experience in a medical-surgical environment will help you learn to prioritize activities and manage multiple patients simultaneously.
- Experience in a step-down or intermediate care unit will give you an opportunity to firmly ground your nursing knowledge and skills and help you when you do get an emergency nursing position.
There are steps you can take to prepare for your first emergency nursing position:
- Join the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) by calling 800/900-9659 or visit our web page for complete information.
- Read emergency nursing publications such as Sheehy's Emergency Nursing, Principles and Practice, and the Journal of Emergency Nursing.
- Attend emergency nursing conferences and CE offerings; contact your local or state ENA officers for more information. Contact information is available at www.ena.org/coursesandeducation/ .
- Attend the following classes to gain the knowledge, skills and credentials that will make you a strong candidate for an ED position:
- Advanced Cardiac Life Support (contact your local hospital for course availability)
- Pediatric Advanced Life Support
(Check with your local colleges or universities that might have courses relating to emergency nursing skills.)
- Focus on developing the following skills:
- Assessment - rapid and focused
- Respiratory assessment, including ABGs and cardiac enzymes
- ECG and EKG interpretation
- IV access skills
- Volunteer for ENA committees, workgroups, and special interest groups.
What can I do to optimize my chances for success after I'm in an emergency nursing position?
Once you get an emergency nursing position, continue to take classes and fine-tune your skills. When opportunities to learn something new come along, take them. Don't be afraid to ask questions - there's a wealth of knowledge to be gained from colleagues, ED managers and emergency physicians on staff. Get involved in unit-based committees and activities as well as local, state and national ENA activities. Find a mentor to help you in your professional development in emergency nursing. Set a two-year goal to obtain your Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) or Certified Flight Registered Nurse (CFRN) credential. Be a to mentor someone yourself! There's no better way to fully learn and understand a subject than to teach it to someone else. Keep yourself challenged and look for new professional growth opportunities.
Good luck in your nursing career, whatever specialty you choose. If you have additional questions about emergency nursing or ENA, please do not hesitate to contact ENA at 800-900-9659 or browse this web site.