4 Steps to Becoming a Telephone Triage Nurse

6 Min Read Published September 20, 2023
Telephone Triage Nurse Career Guide | Nurse.org

Considering making the switch to a work-from-home position? Telephone Triage Nursing could be the right move for you. With the flexibility to work from home, and the rise of telehealth nursing, it’s becoming a popular choice for nurses.

Telephone Triage Nurses are specialized Registered Nurses who evaluate a patient’s medical symptoms and needs over the phone before assisting them in the next steps of care. Read on to learn how to become one, how much you can make, and more! 

What is a Telephone Triage Nurse?

A Telephone Triage Nurse is a Registered Nurse who receives phone calls from individuals requesting medical advice. These nurses help determine the level of care an individual needs and guide a situation to resolution. 

Telephone Triage Nurses are extremely helpful to patients who do not have a primary care physician or live in a very remote area of the country. Telephone Triage Nurses are trained to ask very specific questions to accurately assess their condition and determine the level of care needed and how quickly. 

The 3 Levels of Triage

Utilizing the three levels of triage is very important in determining the medical needs of the caller. These three levels of triage are,

  1. Those who would live without medical attention
  2. Those who would die even with medical attention
  3. Those who would survive only if they received medical attention

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What Does a Telephone Triage Nurse Do?

Telephone Triage Nurses have a variety of job responsibilities. These include,

  1. Scheduling appointments and referring patients to specialists
  2. Assisting and consulting with patients over the phone 
  3. Educating patients on different ways to manage their symptoms
  4. Keeping up to date on the latest medical record technology
  5. Supporting medical response teams in bringing patients into the hospital
  6. Gathering necessary information about each patient including things like age, weight, height, etc.
  7. Assessing the severity of a patient's condition quickly and then recommending an appropriate level of care based on the details provided by the patient
  8. Knowing the appropriate questions to ask based on information provided
  9. Assisting medical teams in reducing patient load
  10. Providing medical advice for patients with common minor health issues
  11. Quickly triaging patients based on the place of employment’s criteria

Telephone Triage Nurse Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for a registered nurse in 2022 is $81,220 per year or $39.05 per hour, but conditions in your area may vary. The BLS does not differentiate between different specialties of nursing, but Salary.com reports that the average annual Telephone Triage Nurse salary was $79,448.

Generally, the salary for a telephone triage nurse is significantly less than other nursing professions. Unfortunately, there is little room for increasing the base salary except for those with increased years of experience. 

Telephone triage nurses who work for major healthcare companies are more likely to have a higher salary than those working for smaller private or public clinics. 

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

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How Do You Become a Telephone Triage Nurse?

To become a Telephone Triage Nurse, you’ll need to complete the following steps:

  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 becoming a registered nurse. ADN-prepared nurses may want to take the additional step of completing their BSN degree.

  2. Pass the NCLEX-RN

    Become a Registered Nurse by passing the NCLEX examination.

  3. Gain Experience at the Bedside

    Prior to becoming a Telephone Triage Nurse, you’ll need to have a minimum of two years in bedside nursing. Most have experience in the emergency room or intensive care nursing. New graduates are rarely hired directly into a telephone triage nursing position. 

  4. Earn Your Certification

    There is no specific certification for Telephone Triage Nursing; however, because Telephone Triage Nurses provide nursing care to patients who would otherwise be in an ambulatory care setting, they are required to possess the knowledge and competencies to provide care to these patients. For this reason, the Ambulatory Care Nursing Certification (RN-BC is often obtained by telephone triage nurses.

Where Do Telephone Triage Nurses Work?

Telephone Triage nurses often have the ability to work from home, depending on their place of employment. In order to work from home, telephone triage nurses will have to have a home office setup, including a dedicated work computer, office line, and headset. 

Some companies will provide these for employees who are able to work off-site, while others will require them to work from an office call center. 

Typically, telephone triage nurses can work in the following locations,

  1. Clinics
  2. Crisis hotlines
  3. Outpatient care centers
  4. Trauma centers
  5. Poison control centers
  6. COVID-19 hotlines
  7. Managed care
  8. Telephone triage centers
  9. Doctor's offices

Most telephone triage services are available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Locations such as a poison control center, crisis hotline, or trauma center will operate 24/7, requiring nurses to staff around the clock. On the other hand, doctor’s offices may only require telephone triage nurses during off-hours such as evenings, nights, weekends, and holidays. 

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What is the Career Outlook for a Telephone Triage Nurse?

According to the BLS, in 2022, there were 3,172,500 registered nurses in the United States. By 2032, there is expected to be a need for 6% more nurses. But Telephone triage nurses are in HIGH demand because this position primarily helps eliminate stress on a healthcare system or doctor’s office, and as you probably already know, there's a lot of that right now.

Furthermore, telephone triage nurses provide healthcare services to individuals who live in remote areas and otherwise would have to travel hours to a physician’s office.

What are the Continuing Education Requirements for a Telephone Triage 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. Furthermore, some states require CEUs related to child abuse, narcotics, and/or pain management. 

The Ambulatory Care Nursing Certification (RN-BC) does require continuing education in order to maintain certification. 

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

Where Can I Learn More About Becoming a Telephone Triage Nurse?

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Telephone Triage Nurse FAQs

  • What are the three categories of triage?

    • There are three main categories of triage that are essential to properly determine the level of care for a patient. The categories are those who would live without medical attention, those who would die even with medical attention, and those who would survive only if they received medical attention.
  • How do you become a Telephone Triage Nurse?

    • To become a telephone triage nurse, individuals must first earn their Registered Nurse license. Then after gaining several years of bedside nursing experience, nurses can apply for telephone triage nurse positions. The easiest way to transition into this position is to apply for an internal transfer within the healthcare system if there is a position available. 
  • How much does a Telephone Triage Nurse make per hour?

    • According to Salary.com, the average annual Telephone Triage Nurse salary was $79,448, but the range typically falls between $72,497 and $89,855.

$70,000 - $90,000 Telephone Triage Associate Bachelors Non-Bedside RN
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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