How to Become an Emergency Room (ER) Nurse

6 Min Read Published September 20, 2023
How to Become an Emergency Room (ER) Nurse

What Is an Emergency Room Nurse?

Emergency room nurses, sometimes called ER nurses, trauma nurses, or critical care nurses, are licensed registered nurses that work in a hospital’s emergency department, or ER. ER nurses are responsible for the stabilization of patients before transferring to the operating room, intensive care unit, and/or medical-surgical unit as well as discharging medically stable patients. 

Patients coming through an ER can be of any age or background and they come in for a variety of reasons – trauma, injury, or acute-onset symptoms. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2018 there were 130 million emergency room visits in the United States. 16.2 million patients were admitted to the hospital while another 2.3 million were admitted to critical care units following an emergency room visit. 

ER nurses are responsible for triaging, treating, and stabilizing these patients. In this guide, we’ll explain what an emergency room nurse does, how to become one, how much they make, and more!

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What Does an Emergency Room Nurse Do?

ER nurses work side by side with other medical professionals to ensure patients receive quality and timely care to treat immediate life-threatening medical conditions. They also stabilize patients requiring advanced medical therapies and discharge stable patients. 

ER nurses work quickly during patient exams and are comfortable using advanced equipment to monitor and treat patients. 

A major ER nursing role you can take on is triaging patients. Triage nurses determine whether patients need immediate care or are stable enough to wait while more emergent cases receive treatment. Our comprehensive guide reveals everything you need to know about how to become a triage nurse.

ER Nurse Duties & Responsibilities

  1. Administering blood products, medications, and vaccinations 
  2. Assisting in the care of traumas, cardiac arrests, strokes, sexual assaults, and conscious sedation
  3. Cleaning and dressing wounds
  4. Conducting cardiopulmonary resuscitation, rescue breathing, or bag-valve-mask ventilation
  5. Discharging medically stable patients
  6. Educating patients, families, and caregivers about their disease and treatment plan
  7. Performing tracheotomies and intubations
  8. Placing Intravenous lines
  9. Responding to emergency situations throughout the hospital
  10. Setting broken bones
  11. Stabilizing trauma patients
  12. Treating critical injuries, allergic reactions, and trauma
  13. Triaging patients upon arrival to the emergency room

ER Nurse Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that registered nurses earn a median annual salary of $81,220, which is $39.05 per hour. However, that includes nurses across all specialties. ER nurses tend to make slightly more than the reported BLS average.

ZipRecruiter reports that emergency room nurses earn an average of $100,312 per year or $48 per hour. The majority of emergency room nurses make between $79,000 and $110,500, with top earners making $154,500 annually. 

>> Related: ER Nurse Salary Guide for 2022

ER Nurse Salaries by Level of Experience

  1. Less than 1 year of experience earn an average hourly wage of $27.85
  2. 1-4 years of experience earn an average hourly wage of $29.89
  3. 5-9 years of experience earn an average hourly wage of $33.43
  4. 10-19 years of experience earns an average hourly wage of $37.21
  5. 20 years and higher years of experience earn an average hourly wage of $40.00

Via Payscale

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How to Become an Emergency Room Nurse

Becoming an ER nurse is similar to other nursing specialties. To become an Emergency Room Nurse, you’ll need to complete the following steps:

Step 1: Attend Nursing School

You’ll need to earn either an ADN or a BSN from an accredited nursing program in order to take the first steps to become a registered nurse. ADN-prepared nurses can complete an additional step of completing their BSN degree if they wish. 

Step 2: Pass the NCLEX-RN

Become a Registered Nurse by passing the NCLEX examination.

Step 3: Gain Experience at the Bedside

It is possible to become an ER nurse directly out of nursing school with no experience; however, some emergency rooms will require two to three years of prior bedside nursing. This might be in a medical-surgical unit or intensive care unit. 

Step 4: Earn Your Certification

Advanced certification is optional but highly encouraged. The Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing offers the Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) to eligible nurses. While not required, most nurses find this certification as a way to advance their careers. 

CEN Eligibility Certification 

  • Current, unrestricted US, US territories, or Canadian RN licensure
  • Recommended:
    • Two years of experience in the emergency room

CEN Exam Information

  • $370 examination fee
  • Computerized examination
  • Three-hour timed exam
  • 175 items (150 scored and 25 unscored pretest items)
  • Passing: 106 correct answers

What’s On The Test?

  • Cardiovascular Emergencies
  • Respiratory Emergencies
  • Neurological Emergencies
  • Gastrointestinal, Genitourinary, Gynecology, and Obstetrical Emergencies
  • Psychosocial and Medical Emergencies
  • Maxillofacial, Ocular, Orthopedic, and Wound Emergencies
  • Environment and Toxicology Emergencies, and Communicable Diseases
  • Professional Issues

Where Do Emergency Room Nurses Work?

Generally, emergency room nurses work in hospital emergency rooms; however, they can work in a variety of other locations. These include:

  1. Academia
  2. Ambulance transport team
  3. Burn center
  4. Disaster Response and/or Emergency Preparedness 
  5. Emergency response team
  6. Flight transport team
  7. Government agency
  8. Medical clinic
  9. Poison control center
  10. Prison
  11. Trauma center
  12. Triage center
  13. Urgent care center

ER Nurse Benefits

Regardless of the workplace setting, full-time and part-time nurses enjoy similar benefits. While actual benefits may vary depending on the institution most include the following:

  1. Attendance at nursing conferences
  2. Bereavement leave       
  3. Certification Reimbursement      
  4. Childcare
  5. Continuing Education Reimbursement
  6. Dental Insurance
  7. Dependent health insurance coverage
  8. Discounts on extracurricular activities      
  9. Family Leave of Absence
  10. Health insurance
  11. Holiday Pay
  12. Life Insurance
  13. Maternity Leave
  14. Paid time off
  15. Relocation assistance
  16. Relocation packages
  17. Retirement Options
  18. Vision Insurance        

What is the Career Outlook for an Emergency Room Nurse?

According to the BLS, in 2022, there were 3,172,500 registered nurses in the United States. By 2032, there will be a need for additional 177,400 nurses, which is an expected growth of 6%.

Overall, there are many jobs available for emergency room nurses due to an aging population and a greater number of uninsured individuals and families in the United States. However, there are ebbs and flows to emergency room visits. Some, depending on the location, will have periods of overwhelming needs and then others with only a handful of patients. 

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What are the Continuing Education Requirements for an Emergency Room Nurse?

Generally, in order for an individual to renew their RN license, they will need to fill out an application, complete a specific number of CEU hours, and pay a nominal fee. Each state has specific requirements and it is important to check with the board of nursing prior to applying for license renewal.

If the RN license is part of a compact nursing license, the CEU requirement will be for the state of permanent residence. Some states require CEUs related to child abuse, narcotics, and/or pain management. 

CEN recertification requires 100 contact hours of nursing continuing education within the four-year recertification period. These continuing education hours can also be used for nursing license renewal. 

A detailed look at Continuing Nurse Education hours can be found here

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Resources for Emergency Room Nurses

Check out these additional resources for more information on emergency room nursing!

  1. Advanced Journal of Emergency Nursing
  2. American Academy of Emergency Nurse Practitioners
  3. American Association of Critical Care Nurses
  4. American Nurses Association
  5. American Trauma Society
  6. Emergency Nurses Association
  7. Journal of Emergency Medicine
  8. National Emergency Nurses Association
  9. Society of Trauma Nurses
  10. The Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing

Emergency Room Nurse FAQs

  •  What is an emergency room nurse called?

    • Emergency room nurses are often referred to as ER nurses but may also be referred to as trauma nurses and/or critical care nurses. 
  • How much does an RN make in an emergency room?

    • reports an average annual salary of $110,288 for emergency room nurses.
  • What kind of nurses work in the ER?

    • Emergency room nurses must be able to think and react quickly to ever-changing situations, including urgent and life-threatening situations. Typically, ER nurses should have experience in a critical care setting, such as an ICU or ER, and experience with advanced medical devices.
  • ICU vs ER nurse - What’s the difference?

RN $70,000 - $90,000 Associate Bachelors ER Bedside
Kathleen Gaines
Kathleen Gaines
News and Education Editor

Kathleen Gaines (nee Colduvell) is a nationally published writer turned Pediatric ICU nurse from Philadelphia with over 13 years of ICU experience. She has an extensive ICU background having formerly worked in the CICU and NICU at several major hospitals in the Philadelphia region. After earning her MSN in Education from Loyola University of New Orleans, she currently also teaches for several prominent Universities making sure the next generation is ready for the bedside. As a certified breastfeeding counselor and trauma certified nurse, she is always ready for the next nursing challenge.

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