If you have ever been rushed to the hospital in a medical crisis situation, then it is likely that you have come face-to-face with and depended on the work of emergency room nurses. ER nurses are experienced registered nurses who specialize their nursing skills in providing critical medical care to patients who are severely injured or acutely ill. In situations where every second counts, ER nurses must provide rapid treatment to patients suffering from a wide variety of minor to severe ailments from natural disasters, car accidents, house fires, violent acts, alcohol poisoning, drug overdose, health-related events, and more. As one of the most fast-paced specialty areas, emergency room nursing comes with the reward of solving potentially life-threatening problems on the spot and saving countless lives in a day’s work.


In general, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the 2.6 million registered nurses, including ER nurses, employed across America bring home an average annual salary of $68,910, which can be translated to $33.13 per hour. Emergency room nurses who work in general medical and surgical hospitals can expect to make around $70,590, but the highest salaries are found in the federal government at an average $79,190 each year.

Beginning Salary

A new ER nurse can expect to earn an average annual salary of $45,630, but this figure will increase greatly over time as he or she gains more critical care experience. As ER nurses become more experienced and move into head nursing positions, there is the potential to earn upwards of $96,320 for a steady six-figure salary.

Key Responsibilities

Emergency room nurses work in critical care facilities to assist doctors in being the first line of defense for patients with any number of urgent medical conditions. On a typical day in the ER, nurses will be responsible for monitoring vital signs, stabilizing patients, minimizing pain, quickly uncovering medical symptoms, administering medicine, using high-tech medical equipment, helping doctors perform minor surgical procedures, and making long-term care arrangements. In order to help prevent future trips to the emergency room, ER nurses often are given the responsibility of teaching patients about injury prevention and safety precautions too.

Necessary Skills

Fast thinking, decisive action, and a sturdy stomach are the top three things that nurses will need daily to work in the ER. Emergency room nurses must be able to stay calm under extreme pressure with strong critical thinking skills to assess a patient’s health and address symptoms immediately. Since any errors can prove fatal, ER nurses must pay close attention to detail and have solid organizational skills in working with multiple critical patients. While compassion is a must for remaining sympathetic to each patient’s needs, ER nurses must be emotionally stable with good coping skills to prepare for potential losses. Interpersonal skills are also required for ER nurses to effectively communicate directly with patients who are scared and answer questions for concerned family members.

Degree and Education Requirements

Becoming an ER nurse will require individuals to first become registered nurses by completing a post-secondary diploma, two-year associate’s degree, or four-year bachelor’s degree within a nursing program accredited by the CCNE or ACEN. Due to the advanced skills needed to provide critical care to patients with severe conditions, many employers now prefer that ER nurses earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree to prepare for the role. For those who wish to continue their education into graduate school, earning a master’s degree in nursing can also be useful for ER nurses seeking to step into advanced nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist positions in the emergency room.

Pros and Cons of this Position

Working in the emergency room is often ideal for adrenaline junkies and registered nurses who thrive in a fast-paced work environment. No two days in the ER are the same, so this specialty area has no room for boredom and always keeps things interesting. While working as part of a team with many other healthcare professionals, ER nurses also build exceptional nursing experience in treating every type of injury and illness known to mankind. On the flip side, ER nurses must deal with high levels of stress when working in life-and-death situations and handling multiple critical patients at once. ER nursing also involves numerous emotionally tough cases like child abuse, rape, tragic accidents, and death, but it is one of the few nursing specialties where nurses can also play a prominent role in saving lives daily.

Getting Started

After graduating from an approved nursing program, it is time to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to receive your RN license to begin professional nursing practice. Most hospital emergency departments will not hire new graduates because of the time-critical nature of the job, so it is suggested that you get started in entry-level staff nurse positions to build a firm foundation of basic nursing skills first. Aspiring ER nurses often will complete a formal orientation or internship program at their hospital too. Working in another area of nursing from a year or two will provide invaluable experience for paving the path towards a successful transition into emergency nursing. Although it is not required, earning credentials as a Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) through the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN) can be a great way to build your career.

Future Outlook

Although there is no specific data available for ER nurses, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that the employment of registered nurses will grow rapidly by 19% for the creation of over 526,800 new jobs before 2022 across all specialty areas. As the large baby boomer population continues to increase demand for acute care services and the occurrence of accidents as well as violent crimes rises, it is predicted that there will be a continued high demand for emergency room nurses. In fact, there has been a 32% rise in ER visits over the last decade, which has stirred a large demand for emergency nursing services. In addition to hospital emergency departments, ER nurses can find plentiful job opportunities in ambulance services, helicopters, urgent care centers, cruise ships, sports arenas, universities, military bases, crisis intervention facilities, and any other settings where critical care is needed.

In an environment that can change from slow to hyperdrive in a matter of minutes, ER nurses are given the duty of providing critical care for patients of all ages and conditions. Emergency room nurses are a special breed of registered nurses who use their excellent observation skills, stamina, multi-tasking abilities, and emotional strength to calm patients amid chaos while providing life-saving medical treatment.

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