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How ER Nurses Work

        Health | ER

A Brief History of Emergency Nursing
Hospitals didn't originally dedicate much space to emergency cases. You might've ended up in the hall if they didn't have room for you.
Hospitals didn't originally dedicate much space to emergency cases. You might've ended up in the hall if they didn't have room for you.
Harold Barkley/Toronto Star/Getty Images

In the early 1900s, if you went to the hospital and needed help fast, you might end up getting trundled through the building's hallways to a dingy room somewhere in the basement and nowhere near ambulance services. Fortunately, by the mid-20th century, hospitals were designing departments specifically to deal with emergency care.

One way or another, until the 1970s, no matter what kind of emergency department you ended up in, the person in charge was likely to be a nurse. That's because, in the early days, many large hospitals rotated unsupervised interns and resident physicians in and out of their emergency departments with the result that the only long-term staff among the medical professionals would be the nurses. That meant that it would be nurses — not the MDs — who guided the new physicians through their training [source: Schriver].

Anita Dorr, for example, rose to become supervisor and then director of the emergency department in her Buffalo, New York, hospital. Noting that her profession lacked both official recognition and standards as a sub-discipline of nursing, she co-founded the Emergency Department Nurses Association (EDNA) with Judy Kelleher in 1970 [source: Jezierski]. The EDNA (now called the Emergency Nurses Association, or ENA) began publishing the Journal of Emergency Nursing and created a series of certification courses.

Now, with more than 40,000 members in 35 countries, the ENA is one of the largest nursing associations in the world. The organization advocates on behalf of emergency nurses in addition to serving as a networking and teaching association. The ENA is also a pioneer in the world of e-learning, with more than 50,000 people taking its online courses. In fact, the online program is so innovative that Digitec Interactive named the association its 2014 Transformer of the Year [source: Digitec Interactive].


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