Americans pay more than 145.6 million visits to the emergency room every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Often the first person they see is an emergency room nurse, who might be tasked with:
Because ER treatment is so often urgent and critical, ER nursing is unquestionably a high-stress profession. If you’re looking for a low-key job with a predictable routine, you should probably look elsewhere. If, however, you thrive on challenges and excitement, the ER could be the place for you. ER work isn’t exactly as action-packed as it appears to be on television dramas, but it’s rarely boring.
In this guide to becoming an emergency room registered nurse, we’ll discuss:
Emergency room nursing can be extremely challenging, but there are positives.
Emergency room nurses don’t always work in the ER, especially when patients need attention in ambulances or emergency helicopters. Other specialized career paths for ER qualified nurses include:
You’ll need an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) and a passing grade on the NCLEX-RN exam, which tests basic competency, to become a registered nurse. It is possible to earn a relatively inexpensive ADN from a local community college and go straight to work after graduation. You should be aware, however, that an increasing number of employers require RNs to hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), and that this trend is likely to continue.
That’s why many nurses opt to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), which is a traditional four-year undergraduate degree. Some jobs require a BSN; having one should improve your chances of getting hired in nearly all circumstances. Like an ADN, however, it is probably more cost-effective to earn this degree from a local college, since tuition is often considerably less for in-state students. As you consider nursing programs, conduct a cost-benefit analysis and ask good questions in order to determine the educational path for your needs.
Some nurses earn a Master of Sciene in Nursing (MSN), which typically takes two years to complete. This degree opens up a variety of career options, a handful of which are listed below. You can also consider an RN-to-MSN program to get your BSN and MSN faster, rather than earning them separately.
Potential opportunities for MSN holders, depending on their concentration, include:
These job titles often come with substantial pay increases, enough to justify attending a more selective (and expensive) school, such as Duke University, to earn your MSN.
In addition to the mandatory NCLEX, ER nurses can opt to take the Certified Emergency Nurse exam (CEN), which demonstrates a high level of competency in emergency practice. More than 38,000 nurses have taken the CEN through the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN).
Though being an RN is the only eligibility requirement to take the CEN, applicants are encouraged to have at least two years of experience before attempting the test.
The Emergency Nurses Association offers plenty of resources (including conferences and publications) for nurses and students. It shares best evidence-based practices and help nurses expand their networks.
Additionally, the ENA lobbies the government for funding and legislation and works with the American Psychiatric Nurses Association to provide a clinical framework to help nurses navigate any challenging mental health circumstances that they face.
Though there is no single advancement path for emergency room registered nurses, a common option is to earn a Master’s Degree in Nursing.
Some nurses might choose to earn a doctoral degree in nursing. These options include:
These programs can take three years or longer.
A DNP focuses on clinical aspects of nursing. Programs often “build on traditional master’s programs by providing education in evidence-based practice, quality improvement, and systems leadership, among other key areas,” according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
For those interested in research or teaching, a DNSc, such as the one at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center – New Orleans, or a nursing PhD, such as the one at Columbia University, might be a better fit.
If and when you become an active emergency room registered nurse, continuing your education will definitely add value to your résumé and strengthen your general abilities because the field is continually evolving. Advanced degrees and additional credentials will help you stay competitive and qualified for nursing opportunities that most interest you.
Whether you work in a hospital or find yourself in a more specialized setting, one thing you can know for sure: being an ER nurse is a demanding medical career, but one where you’ll never be bored. If you will thrive in a job where you have a direct role in saving lives, and if you have the empathy and drive to handle it, an emergency nursing career may be right for you.
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