The American Burn Association reports that an estimated 70,000 hospitalizations each year are contributed to burn injuries. Whether they’re first, second, or third degree, burns are serious wounds that must be treated with care immediately to avoid lasting tissue damage. Burn unit nurses are skilled healthcare professionals who specialize in treating patients burned by fire, chemical contact, electricity, scalding water, or another flammable danger. Their hard work has helped the U.S. survival rate among burn victims reach 96 percent. Burn unit nurses typically work in burn centers, intensive care units, trauma hospitals, and emergency rooms to care for acute pediatric and adult patients. Keeping victims heavily sedated to ease the severe pain while cleaning and dressing the wound is their duty. Burn unit nurses also serve as emotional caregivers for patients’ families after the harrowing incident.


Statistics published on show that the median annual salary for burn unit nurses in the United States is $63,477. This equates to an average hourly wage of $31, or $1,221 per week. RNs typically benefit from healthcare, pensions, vacation, social security, and disability, which means the total average compensation is $89,772 yearly.

Beginning Salary

Newly hired burn unit nurses can expect landing on the left side of the bell curve with a yearly income around $45,359. However, there’s great potential for experienced burn unit nurses to eventually bring home base salaries beyond $89,864. Burn unit nursing supervisors could potentially earn six figures for up to $210,957 each year.

Key Responsibilities

Burn unit nurses are responsible for observing, monitoring, and often ventilating burn victims to protect their physical well-being. They’re focused on helping patients recover from severe second and third degree burns, or providing end-of-life treatment if needed. Most burn unit nurses work one-on-one with injured patients from initial admission through recovery. They’re involved in assessing the burn’s damage, taking vital signs, and starting IV fluids. This job involves more than simply applying salve and dressing wounds though. Burn unit nurses will alleviate patients’ pain, prevent complications, educate patients’ on their prognosis, and provide emotional support. Some even deliver burn prevention workshops for the greater community.

Necessary Skills

Being successful in the burn unit means RNs must have superb clinical skills to provide life-sustaining treatment and control infection. Quick thinking skills are essential for burn unit nurses to make efficient, split-second decisions on critical cases. Burn unit nurses need exceptional communication skills to convey important patient data to physicians. Listening skills are another must because fully comprehending the wishes or concerns of patients and their families is key. Burn unit nurses need the technical ability to utilize medical equipment and input electronic health records. Emotional stability and coping skills help RNs stay level-headed when treating patients with severe burns. Burn unit nurses should also be compassionate, perceptive problem-solvers.

Degree and Education Requirements

Proper schooling is the first step towards becoming a burn unit nurse. Most states allow RNs to pursue licensure with a diploma, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree. Since this critical specialty is intensive, employers generally prefer a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). If you’re already registered, returning to school for an on-campus or online RN-to-BSN program would be ideal. Bachelor’s programs blend general education with nursing theory and applied practicum, which should be concentrated in trauma care. Going ahead to a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) could expand your opportunities for advancement as a burn unit nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, or nursing supervisor.

Pros and Cons of the Position

When determining whether becoming a burn unit nurse is right for you, begin weighing the advantages and drawbacks. In the pro column, burn unit nurses receive comfortable salaries with excellent benefits. Critical nursing shortages are expected to make job hunting less stressful for young RNs. It’s possible to enter burn unit nursing positions with only two to four years of post-secondary education. Burn unit nurses have room for advancement into supervisory and APRN roles. Working in critical care also reaps intrinsic rewards by helping victims throughout one of their most frightening, painful times with 1:1 ratios. On the flip side, burn unit nurses witness extremely gruesome injuries that are difficult emotionally. Becoming and remaining state licensed is required, which means plenty of continuing education. Burn unit nurses work irregular shifts to ensure round-the-clock treatment is provided. The job can also be physically demanding, especially in heated “tank” rooms.

Getting Started

Knowing the most effective techniques in burn medicine may begin in the classroom, but actual experience reigns supreme. Burn unit nurses generally must spend three or more years working in other critical care arenas before specializing. During your college years, request practicum placements where you’ll encounter acute patients and make life-or-death decisions. You’ll be prepared to pass the NCLEX-RN examination after graduation for state licensing. Begin applying for entry-level staff nursing jobs in ICU and trauma centers. Logging hours for your resume is crucial for employment and certification. It’s recommended that you pursue the Advanced Burn Life Support (ABLS) credential. Doing so will require taking a live or online courses and passing a certification exam. Through the AACN, you could also become a Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN).

Future Outlook

Burn victims represent the most severe model of trauma, so qualified nurses will always be needed to appease their intricate needs. RNs working in ICU and critical care disciplines are among the easiest to place because of their experience with high acuity patients. According to the BLS, employment of nurses will continue rising faster-than-average by 16 percent through 2024. The RN workforce is expected to grow to 3.1 million overall, which provides plentiful opportunity. Burn unit nurses with a bachelor’s degree will find the most promising prospects in trauma centers, emergency rooms, intensive care units, and burn wards. Across the United States, there are 128 self-designated burn centers to provide the detail-oriented wound care for recovery.

Burn care nursing is a gratifying specialty for RNs to provide immediate emergency care to individuals facing severe damage that caused skin cells to die. They play a pivotal role in maintaining a sterile environment where victims are kept as comfortable as possible while making strides toward recovery. Their patients must be watched closely because burns can cause local and systemic side effects that are life-threatening. Becoming a burn unit nurse would allow you to guide patients and their families through this extreme crisis safely.


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