Emergency Nursing – Is it right for you?

Emergency nurses make a difference in the lives of people every day, every shift. While there tends to be a lot of flashing lights and a good bit of chaos, there are true moments of greatness and connection with your patients that you won't find anywhere else in healthcare. If you like action, the unexpected, and making a positive impact in the lives of your patients and community, then a career in the ED is for YOU!

Let's find out what type of Emergency Nursing is right for you?

Types of Emergency Medicine & Departments

Did you know that there are different kinds of emergency departments? Like many things in healthcare, emergency medicine has many sub-specialties. Different emergency departments cater to very specific patient populations and medical issues.

A few sub-types of Emergency Medicine:

  • Trauma
  • Stroke
  • Cardiac
  • Burn
  • Neuro
  • Disaster Response
  • Military
  • Pediatric
  • Adult
  • Geriatric

There is also a HUGE variation in emergency departments depending on WHERE your facility is and the resources that you have to support your emergency care.

Different settings for Emergency Departments:

  • Critical Access
    • Remote settings with very few resources
  • Rural Areas
    • Moderately remote areas with more resources within a few hours by road or air
  • Community Settings
    • Mid-size cities with a moderate amount of resources
  • Urban Areas
    • Major metropolitan areas, usually a lot of resources
  • Teaching Hospital
    • Large facilities associated with a university or two, many resources available
  • Stand-Alone Emergency Department
    • Available in only certain states, not physically connected with a hospital
  • Disaster Settings
    • Extreme environments after a disaster, few resources, often associated with federal or military response programs


Emergency Nurse Roles

Just like the wide variation that exists in emergency medicine and emergency departments, there are so many different types of Emergency Nurses. Most Emergency Nurses will take on multiple roles over the course of their career, so know that you normally won’t be able to pick just one. (Sorry) But while not all roles may be for you, it’s important to explore the many roles that do exist within emergency nursing.

Descriptions of a few Emergency Nurse roles:

  • Trauma Nurse
  • Code Nurse
    • Code Nurses run the Code Rooms where the sickest of the sick patients go in the ED. No pulse, not breathing? No problem! The Code Nurse will run the ACLS-based codes and provide emergency care for these critically ill patients.
    • This role will require ACLS and PALS (if you see children) and usually at least a year or two of experience.
  • Triage Nurse
  • Disaster Response or Emergency Preparedness Nurse
    • In theory, all ED nurses are first-responders during a disaster. You never know when a natural or man-made disaster will occur in your area, causing your local ED to become a first point of contact for victims of the event. All ED nurses should have annual training in disaster response per the policy of their facility.
    • Most EDs will have a Disaster Champion or Emergency Preparedness Nurse who is in charge of ensuring that your department is always up-to-date on their disaster response plans and policies.
    • There are also special local, state, federal, and military disaster response teams that employ nurses to be called in at times of disaster.
  • Flight Nurse
  • Critical-Care Transport (CCT) Nurse (Ambulance)
    • CCT Nurses that work on ambulances are responsible for transporting critical care patients from one facility to another. They work out of an ambulance with a care team of paramedics or EMTs.
    • CCT Nurses usually need several years of experience and optimally, pre-hospital care experience.
  • Pediatric ED Nurse
  • Burn Center Nurse
    • Emergency Nurses that work in Burn Centers are specially trained in burn victim resuscitation and burn care. Most major metropolitan areas will have at least one designated burn center with an emergency department.
  • Geriatric ED Nurse
    • Nurses that work in Geriatric Centers are responsible for the care of elderly patients. Geriatric ED Nurses get trained on the specialized care that older adults require.
    • Interested in geriatric emergency nursing? Check out ENA’s Geriatric Emergency Nursing Education (GENE) Course.
  • Military Nurse
  • Charge Nurse
    • The Charge Nurse is the captain of the ship in the emergency department. They are responsible for staffing, patient assignments, throughput, communication with the ED providers and nursing leadership, and much, much more. Your Charge Nurse is your best resource for all things and keeps the department in order when your shift starts to hit the fan.
    • The Charge Nurse role requires several years of experience in addition to critical-thinking and leadership skills.
    • Think you might have the stuff to become a Charge Nurse? Read ENA’s Position Statement on Nurse Leaders in Emergency Care Settings.
Sarah Wells, MSN, RN, CEN, CNL
"Hello! My name is Sarah K. Wells, MSN, RN, CEN, CNL, and I have been an Emergency Nurse since I was a New Grad Nurse. I totally understand how it can be hard to figure out what type of nurse you want to be, but with ENA, I found it so easy to know that Emergency Nursing was for me.

You may be wondering who I am, so let me tell you a little about myself! My name is Sarah, and I live in Oakland, California. I am originally from Georgia and graduated from nursing school there in 2010. I started my Emergency Nurse career in 2011 at a community hospital where I got amazing experience and really learned to be a Jill of all trades. After about two years in nursing, I moved to California in 2012 where I still live and work today!

After working in trauma, stroke, cardiac, and burn centers, I have settled down at another community hospital where I work at the bedside and as the Lead Pediatric Champion where I work to enhance the education opportunities for my ED colleagues. I also started my own business, New Thing Nurse, where I help nursing students and veteran RNs land their dream jobs, get into school, and launch their new ideas through supportive academic and professional coaching.

I am so excited that you are here to learn more about Emergency Nursing, and I hope to help you all along the way!"

Have enough to think about yet?

See? There are so many ways to be an Emergency Nurse, and ENA is here to help you find the right role for you! Join ENA, and you will have access to all kinds of resources to help you figure out what kind of Emergency Nurse you want to be.