Is Emergency Nursing Right for You?

If you like action, the unexpected, and making a positive impact in the lives of your patients and community, then a career in emergency department might be for you.

Here’s a breakdown of the different types of emergency medicine departments and roles you could encounter in your emergency nursing career journey.

Types of Emergency Medicine & Departments

Like many things in health care, emergency medicine has many sub-specialties that cater to very specific patient populations and health conditions. Emergency departments can vary significantly depending on the location of your facility and the resources available to support emergency care.


  • Trauma 
  • Stroke 
  • Cardiology
  • Burn
  • Neurology 
  • Disaster Response 
  • Military 
  • Pediatric 
  • Adult 
  • Geriatric 

ED Settings

  • 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 have a lot of resources
  • Teaching Hospital: Large facilities associated with a university or two and many resources
  • Stand-Alone: Only available in certain states, not physically connected to a hospital
  • Disaster: 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 many different types of emergency nurses. As an emergency nurse, you’ll often embrace various roles throughout your career, so it’s common to do more than one.

While not all roles may be for you, it’s valuable to explore the many roles that do exist within emergency nursing.

Trauma Nurse

  • Trauma nurses work in trauma centers and run the show when trauma patients come in by ambulance, helicopter or personal vehicle (it totally happens). This role requires specialized training and usually two years of experience.
  • Consider taking ENA’s Trauma Nursing Core Course to get you started on the road to becoming a trauma nurse.

Rapid Response Nurse

  • Rapid response nurses are assigned to respond to rapid responses in various locations of the hospital per policy.
  • You will work with other health care providers using your ACLS knowledge to care for critically ill patients.
  • This role will require ACLS and PALS (if you care for children) and usually at least a year or two of experience.

Triage Nurse

  • Triage nurses sort patients based on complaints, vital signs and resources needed to help decide who gets seen first by an ED provider.
  • See ENA’s position statement on triage nurses: Triage Qualifications & Competency

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 the 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 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

  • Flight Nurses are a type of critical-care transport nurses who operate from helicopters and planes to transport critically injured or ill patients to emergency departments, or from one ED to another facility. 
  • This role usually requires three to five years of experience, preferably with prior experience in the pre-hospital setting. 
  • Once you get your flight nurse career started, check out the Certified Flight Registered Nurse certification. 

Critical-Care Transport Nurse

  • CCT nurses 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

  • Pediatric ED nurses work in facilities that primarily provide care for patients younger than 18 years old, usually in a pediatric hospital. Having to accommodate care for neonates to teenagers, this role can be challenging.
  • To prepare for the world of pediatric emergency nursing, consider taking ENA’s Emergency Nursing Pediatric Course.

Burn Center Nurse

  • Emergency nurses who 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. 
  • To prepare for this specialty, consider becoming a Certified Burn Registered Nurse.

Geriatric ED Nurse

  • Nurses who work in geriatric centers are responsible for the care of elderly patients. Geriatric ED nurses get trained in the specialized care that older adults require. 
  • Interested in geriatric emergency nursing? Check out ENA’s Geriatric Emergency Nursing Education course. 

Military Nurse

  • Emergency nurses in the military are specially trained to work in military hospitals, clinics or combat zones. A nurse must be enlisted in one of the military branches to be considered for a military nurse position. 
  • Are you in the military? ENA offers discounted membership pricing for military members. 

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 many topics and plays a crucial role in maintaining order in the department, especially during hectic shifts.
  • 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.