How to Become an Emergency Room Nurse


Career Path Guide

To become an emergency room nurse, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for your skills, interests and personality traits. If the following description sounds like you, then you’re probably well suited for it:


• You have a keen interest in providing quality care to those who experience medical emergencies

• You are willing to gain a comprehensive understanding of the foundations and theory of nursing practice

• You can imagine performing rapid and accurate patient assessment

• You would be able to provide compassionate, non-judgmental and ethical care in challenging situations

• You would enjoy working in a very fast-paced and challenging environment

• You can think fast on your feet and be calm in stressful environments

• You have plenty of physical, emotional and intellectual stamina


Below, we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as an emergency room nurse. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, educational requirements, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become an Emergency Room Nurse

In Canada and the United States, it's the norm that you must first qualify to become certified as a registered nurse (RN), and then pursue on-the-job experience in emergency nursing, before you will be qualified to work full-time as an emergency room nurse.


Some American states however, only require that you are a licensed practical nurse (LPN). Be sure to check with your state nursing association for specific requirements of becoming an emergency room nurse.


Becoming a Registered Nurse

In Canada, you must earn a Bachelor of Nursing degree in order to qualify for becoming a registered nurse. In the United States, you can qualify for becoming a registered nurse by earning a nursing diploma, an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).


Although not common, some employers may require additional education in the field of emergency nursing, either in the form of a graduate level certificate or a masters degree in nursing with a specialization in emergency nursing. 





General Job Description

Emergency room nurses are registered nurses who specialize in the rapid assessment and treatment of a patient, often when the patient is at a high risk of losing their life. 


These nurses must be able to respond quickly, decisively and efficiently to a variety of medical situations, including respiratory, cardiovascular and other trauma emergencies, in order to and assess, treat and stabilize patients.


Emergency room nurses treat a variety of conditions and medical emergencies, ranging from sore throats to heart attacks to child delivery, for patients of all ages and backgrounds.



Common Duties of the Job

The specific job duties of an emergency room nurse can vary based on the size and type of their employer, their level of certification and experience, and other factors. In general however, they're responsible for performing the following duties:


• Asses and stabilize patients experiencing trauma

• Minimize the pain of patients

• Teach patients about injury prevention

• Work closely with doctors EMS staff, and other healthcare professionals

• Develop a therapeutic relationship with the client and significant others

• Advocate for the patient/client and significant others

• Facilitate safe and efficient intra- and inter-facility transfers

• Document assessment data, plan of care, client responses and outcomes

• Provide discharge planning information

• Operate emergency medical equipment and specialized instruments 



Who Employs Emergency Room Nurses?

Emergency room nurses are employed on a part-time, full-time and contractual basis by a variety of healthcare organizations. They can practice in any of the following places:


• Hospital emergency departments

• Healthcare facility administration departments

• Universities and colleges (schools of nursing)

• Research/research institutes

• Emergent care centers

• EMS/Pre-hospital transport such as ambulatory services

• Flight nursing in helicopters and airplanes

• Poison control centers

• Telephone triage

• Military

• Crisis intervention centers

• Prisons and correctional facilities (adult and juvenile)

• Federal and provincial/state governmental agencies



Certification Needed

In Canada and the United States (some exceptions apply in the United States) you must first be licensed as a registered nurse in order to become an emergency room nurse. Additional voluntary certification is available for emergency room nurses in the Canada and the United States:


In Canada, the Canadian Nurses association offers the Emergency Nurse Certified credential (ENC). To qualify for this credential, candidates must be a registered nurse, have 2 plus years of professional emergency nursing experience, and pass an exam.


In the United States, the Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) credential is available through the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN). Requirements for the exam include holding a current RN license, as well as passing an exam. BCEN recommends also having 2 years of experience in emergency nursing to pursue certification, although it is not recommended. 





Experience Needed

Some employers prefer to hire experienced nurses, as the time-sensitive nature of emergency medical conditions requires a nurse with a firm foundation of basic nursing skills. Other employers however, will hire nursing graduates to work in emergency nursing without professional experience.


If you're unable to get a job right out of school, it's recommended that you gain the experience and knowledge necessary by working in another area of nursing for a year or two, prior to specializing in emergency nursing. Working in the following areas of nursing can help pave your path to emergency nursing:


Critical care: Allows you to gain the knowledge and skills necessary for life and death resuscitation scenarios.


Medical-surgical care: Enables you to learn to prioritize activities and manage multiple patients simultaneously.


Intermediate care: Allows you to firmly ground your nursing knowledge and skills.



Skills Needed to Become an Emergency Room Nurse

Working as an emergency room nurse requires a certain set of skills; skills that are applicable to a career as a registered nurse in general, and skills that are applicable to a career as an emergency room nurse.


General Nursing Skills


• Knowledge of the foundations and theory of nursing practice

• Able to accurately operate medical equipment

• Able to promptly and accurately assess rapidly changing health conditions

• Able to develop a therapeutic relationship with the client and significant others

• Able to provide compassionate, non-judgmental and ethical care in challenging situations

• Fitness level suitable for performing duties that require standing, bending and lifting patients

• Able to utilize effective communication techniques (such as interpreters, crisis intervention, appropriate non-verbal behaviours)


Emergency Nursing Skills


In addition to needing the following skills to enter the profession, it is very important as an emergency room nurse to maintain competence in these areas through by way of continuing education, professional development, quality assurance activities and reflective practice.


• Rapid and focused patient assessment

• Respiratory assessment, including ABGs and cardiac enzymes

• ECG and EKG interpretation

• Intravenous (IV) access skills



Characteristics Needed to Be Successful

In order to enjoy performing the duties of an emergency room nurse, you need to have certain personality traits. Taking enjoyment from your duties, and your career in general, is important, as it helps you maintain a positive attitude towards your work, which usually leads to having a long and successful career.


• A keen interest in helping those who experience trauma

• Ability to shift gears and adjust your pace as needed

• Good interpersonal skills

• A patient-centered approach to healthcare work

• Physical, emotional and intellectual stamina

• Good personal coping skills

• Assertive, with regards to patient advocacy

• Ability to maintain calm within chaotic surroundings

• Ability to think fast and on your feet



Average Salary

The salary level of emergency room nurses can vary, depending on their level of education, their level of experience, the region in which the work, and many other factors.


Emergency Room Nurse Salary - Canada: According to the 2014 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey (the latest figures available at the time of writing), Albertans working in the Registered Nurses occupational group earn an average salary of $80,129 per year. The overall average wage for registered nurses is $42.60 per hour. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available from reliable sources for other Canadian provinces or territories at the time of writing (June 30, 2019). 


Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage of American workers in the Nurse Practitioners occupational group is $95,070 per year. 



ER Nurse Job Postings

Our job board below has 'ER Nurse' postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.




Work Environment

Setting: Emergency room nurses typically work in a hospital emergency room setting. They can however, work in other settings such as a prison, an ambulance, a crisis intervention centre, a telephone emergency triage centre, and many other settings. Whichever setting they work in, is one in which limited space and a lack of control over the number of clients and client acuity level can stress available resources.


Hours: The typically working hours of emergency room nurses can fluctuate quite a bit. It is quite common for them to work 8 hour shifts that can be during anytime of the day, as most of the settings they work within are facilities that operate around the clock.


Conditions: The work environment for emergency room nurses is highly influenced by such challenges as patient flow and volume, length of patient stay, and the amount of staff that is available to provide care. Their working environment allows for varied intensity, and requires the nurse to be able to “switch gears” quickly, and adjust their pace as necessary.


Working with Patients: The patients that emergency room nurses provide care for are typically experiencing unplanned and unexpected health situations, which vary in severity and complexity. Emergency room patients may vary in age, gender, socio-economic background and sexual orientation. It is not uncommon for the patient to present a risk of injury to themselves, staff and others by means of violence, infectious disease or elopement.



Similar Occupations in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to 'emergency room nurse', as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.



Long Term Care Nurse

Pediatric Nurse

Registered Nurse





Please use the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as an emergency room nurse.


Occupations in Alberta:Registered Nurse.” (April 11, 2014). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 13, 2019.

Healthcare:Registered Nurses.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 13, 2019.

Travel Nursing News: “How to Become an Emergency Room Nurse.” (February 23, 2015). FastStaff Travel Nursing website. Retrieved November 13, 2019.

Health Sciences Programs:Emergency Nursing - RN.” (n.d.). Humber College website. Retrieved November 13, 2019.

Resources:About the Exam.” (n.d.). Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing website. Retrieved November 13, 2019.



Scholarships for Becoming an Emergency Room Nurse

Scholarships listed for majors that apply to becoming an emergency room nurse are all of those that are found on our Nursing Scholarships page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below will serve as an excellent educational foundation for this career. 


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