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
    • 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 (TNCC) to get you started on the road to becoming a 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
    • Triage Nurses sort patients based on complaint, vital signs, and resources needed to help decide who gets seen first by an ED provider.
    • ENA has a great position statement – “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 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
    • Flight Nurses are a type of Critical-Care Transport (CCT) Nurses who work out of helicopters and planes to transport critically injured or ill patients to emergency departments or from one ED to another facility.
    • This role usually requires 3-5 years of experience and optimally, experience in the pre-hospital setting.
    • Once you get your Flight Nurse career started, check out the Certified Flight Registered Nurse (CFRN) certification.
  • 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
    • Pediatric ED Nurses work in facilities that primarily take care of patients less 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 if pediatric emergency nursing, consider taking ENA’s Emergency Nursing Pediatric Course (ENPC).
  • 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.

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.