If you have ever wondered what it is like to be an ER nurse, it is best described as a roller coaster. There are ups and downs of emotions, energy, demands, and adrenaline. If you are looking for a high-octane specialty, becoming an emergency room nurse is for you.
Most of us have probably seen an episode of ER, Scrubs, Grey’s Anatomy, or Chicago Med. These shows try to portray a day in the life of a healthcare worker, but with dramatic flair. As off the wall as some of the scenarios can be, they do, on occasion, create an accurate depiction of what it is like to be an emergency department nurse.
You can expect an ER nurse shift to start as a typical nursing day, and you will take over care for a nurse coming off shift and get report on their patients. You may have additional tasks that need to be completed on these patients, depending on how long they have been in the emergency department. Your patients can have a wide range of complaints such as sprains, lacerations, chest pain, fever, abdominal pain, urinary pain, changes in mental status, and the list goes on and on.
The variety of illnesses and injuries that you will see on a daily basis is enough to keep you on your toes. In one twelve-hour shift, you may see a kidney stone, heart attack, motor vehicle collision, assault, stroke, overdose, sepsis, and a pulmonary embolism. One of the most significant aspects is every day is a new learning experience. You are constantly learning new procedures, medications, and treatment plans because not all emergency room physicians work the same. They have their practices based on their training and their experiences.
You must be prepared to have little or no downtime because you will have several patients that need a workup and most likely are high acuity. Additionally, running out of beds isn’t an option because those front doors never close, so you will need to be able to move your patients around and get them to their disposition destination quickly to make room for more patients.
It is crucial to be prepared for the emotions you will feel during your shift; you often meet people during the worst or scariest time of their lives. Sometimes you will feel absolutely defeated when you lose a patient you have been resuscitating, or you will have that high of getting someone’s family member back and stable.
Don’t forget the adrenaline! When a trauma or critical patient comes in, your adrenaline gets ramped up, and once they are stable, you still have to return to your other patients who need your attention.
Working in the emergency department can be exciting, exhausting, and emotional, but most of all, it is rewarding. It is important to be prepared to fall in love with being an emergency room nurse.
The first step to becoming an ER nurse is obtaining your associate degree in nursing or your bachelor’s degree in nursing. Once you have successfully completed your degree and passed your state boards, you can apply to work in an emergency department. Not all emergency departments hire new graduate nurses, but it is worth a shot! It does help if you complete your preceptorship or your final semester of nursing school in an ER, but this is not always an option.
If you cannot find a new graduate nursing position in an emergency department, you may have to work in another department to get some experience under your belt first. Ask to shadow in your hospital’s ER to connect and meet with managers. Let them know your interest and keep a lookout for internally posted positions!
Additionally, you can study for and sit for the certified emergency nurses exam to build your career as an ER nurse. This is not a requirement for the job, but it is strongly encouraged to help develop your knowledge base.