How ER Nurses Work

What Does it Take to Be an Emergency Nurse?
Keeping cool under pressure is key to a career in nursing.
Keeping cool under pressure is key to a career in nursing.

The key elements that differentiate emergency nursing from other specializations are the variety of duties and the pace of activity. At any given moment, an emergency nurse could be called on to help deal with every imaginable type of health issue from administering shots to delivering babies to reviving patients in cardiac arrest. And the pace of work can swing wildly, with quiet afternoons exploding into chaos in a matter of seconds.

Obviously, if you want to be an emergency nurse, you have to be the kind of person who thrives on variety and can keep a cool head when things go crazy. But you also have to be comfortable with lulls in the action while waiting for the flashing lights to arrive with the next crisis.

To become an emergency nurse, you have to start with a nursing degree. Once you're an RN, there's a possibility that you could be hired right away by a short-handed emergency department, but this won't be the smoothest path to follow. Before diving into the high-pressure discipline of emergency nursing, the ENA recommends spending some time in a different department honing basic nursing skills like how to prioritize duties, how to handle multiple patients at once and how to help with real-life resuscitation efforts. That said, some hospitals provide three- to six-month internship programs to prepare prospective emergency nurses for the job. The association also recommends working toward specialized credentials like the CEN (certified emergency nurse) or the CFRN (certified flight registered nurse). If you're already busy working as a nurse, each certification could take about two years [source: ENA].

As the "F" in CFRN implies, emergency nurses don't just work in hospitals. CFRNs are qualified to practice on planes and in helicopters. A CEN could also find employment at poison control centers, prisons, crisis intervention centers, in ambulances and in the military, to name just a few possibilities. And they can further specialize in sub-disciplines like pediatrics and psychiatry.

While good statistics for emergency-nurse incomes are hard to come by, all emergency nurses are RNs, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the average yearly income for RNs in 2013 was $68,910 [source: U.S. Department of Labor]. Having a CEN or other certification can mean earning even higher pay.

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