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How to Become an
Emergency Room (ER) Nurse

The path to specialize in ER nursing

An emergency room or ER nurse is a nurse that works in the emergency room or department of a hospital or clinic. As a first-line responder, ER nurses treat patients with traumatic injuries, severe illnesses or other serious medical conditions that require immediate care. These conditions may include heart attacks, car accidents and broken bones.

If you enjoy the medical field, can think quickly in stressful situations, and stay cool under pressure, nursing may be a great career choice. Here are five steps you can take to become an ER nurse:

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Emergency Room Nurse (ER) Setting Up IV

1. Understand the job duties/responsibilities of an ER nurse

ER nurses generally work in critical care settings, including Level 1 trauma centers and emergency rooms in hospitals. ER nurses treat patients of all ages, from pediatric to senior, with various critical injuries or illnesses. They work closely with other medical staff to quickly assess, diagnose, and treat patients who have life-threatening illnesses or injuries. This requires the ability to stay calm and act fast under pressure.

Key responsibilities of ER nurses include:

  • Triage patients, meaning prioritize patient care in order of urgency and need
  • Stabilize incoming patients
  • Set broken bones
  • Clean wounds, apply sutures, and place stitches
  • Perform tracheostomies and intubations
  • Draw blood, start intravenous lines (IVs) and administer medicine
  • Transfer stable patients to hospital beds
  • Maintain patient records
  • Educate patients and family members about diagnoses and treatment options

Traits and skills of an ER nurse

The emergency room is often busy and fast-paced, so ER nurses must be able to think quickly and be comfortable multitasking. It's important to stay calm and focused, even while working long hours. ER nurses must also be caring and compassionate to assist and comfort patients and their families.

Read more about an ER nurse’s day-to-day experience working in the emergency room.

"Every day in the ER is different, and ER nurses must be able to adapt and respond to new situations at a moment’s notice. Although working in the ER might be too fast paced for some nurses, I have found it to be an incredibly rewarding field."
Carry Ramel, ER nurse and Associate Nursing Professor

2. Earn a nursing degree

The first step to becoming an ER nurse is to earn your nursing degree from an accredited university or college.

Herzing University offers a variety of nursing degree options:

  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ASN): An ASN degree prepares students for an entry-level nursing career and can typically be completed in less than two years.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): A BSN takes 3-4 years to complete but can be earned sooner depending on transfer credits. Some schools, like Herzing, offer both online and in-person options.
  • Accelerated BSN: An accelerated BSN program is a great fit for students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field and are up to the challenge of accelerated coursework.
  • Direct-entry MSN program: This program is designed for students who have earned their non-nursing bachelor’s degree and want to immediately start pursuing an advanced nursing degree. With Herzing’s MSN – Direct Entry program, you can earn a master’s degree in nursing in as few as 20 months.
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3. Become a Registered Nurse (RN)

Once you’ve become a nursing grad, you’ll need to pass the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

This exam tests graduates on the application and analysis using the nursing education and training they gained in school. Our nursing program curriculums are built to help you prepare for the NCLEX-RN and succeed in your first RN job right from the start.

After you pass the NCLEX-RN and meet all your state’s licensing requirements, you will become a licensed RN.

4. Earn experience and get certified

The next steps to becoming an ER nurse are gaining experience and earning a certification. Certification can be a great addition to your skillset and resume to qualify for more types of ER nursing jobs you may want to pursue.

Two popular certifications for ER nurses are the Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) and Trauma Nursing Core Course (TNCC).

  • The Board-Certified Emergency Nurse (BCEN) designation showcases an ER nurse’s expertise, specialized knowledge, and flexibility in emergency nursing. To meet the exam qualifications, you must hold a current, unrestricted RN license. It’s also recommended that you have two years of hands-on nursing experience to prepare for the exam, although it is not required.
  • The TNCC prepares ER nurses with the knowledge, critical-thinking skills and training needed to provide high-quality trauma nursing care. The course includes information on rapid identification of life-threatening injuries, systematic assessment and application of care, and current trauma nursing practice recommendations. Class participants must have a current, unrestricted RN license.

5. Consider advancement

After you have gained experience working as an ER nurse, expand your nursing knowledge and career opportunities with an advanced nursing degree. Herzing has many pathways to choose from.

  • RN to BSN degree: This is perfect for RNs with an ADN/ASN ready to earn a bachelor’s degree. The flexible, online RN to BSN program can be completed in as little as 12 months.
  • MSN degree: An online Master of Science in Nursing degree can further your nursing knowledge and prepare you for leadership positions. With Herzing’s MSN program, you can choose specialties including nurse practitioner, nursing education, and nursing leadership and administration.
  • Post-Master’s Certificate (PMC): A post-master’s certificate in nursing can help you change your emphasis and expand your nursing abilities after you’ve earned a master’s degree.

ADN nurses: take the next step

Advancing your education is key to discovering the career path of your choosing.

You can go from RN to BSN online in as little as 1 year and potentially open many doors to future career possibilities, including potential new specialty pathways of your choosing.

Learn more about our RN to BSN program:

Herzing University Graduate Holding Diploma and Smiling

Frequently Asked Questions

Regulation has been deliberated for many years. There is currently only one state which has taken concrete action to make BSNs effectively mandatory for nurses – New York. Their “BSN in 10” bill, passed in January 2017, requires registered nurses holding an associate degree to earn their BSN qualification within 10 years of their initial RN licensure.

Two primary competing factors cloud the issue:

  1. Hospitals are incentivized to hire more BSN-prepared nurses. Organizations seeking Magnet Recognition must require all nurse managers to hold a BSN.
  2. Nurses are in very high demand. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) calls it a shortage in nursing. Raising minimum education requirements may decrease the pool of eligible employable RNs.

Because of the high demand for nurses, sweeping legislation making bachelor’s degrees mandatory across the board seems unlikely. However, make sure to keep an eye on what’s happening in your state!

The highest degree, or terminal degree, in nursing is the doctoral degree.

We offer the practice-focused Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) for students seeking to ascend to the highest ranks of the nursing field and begin making a significant impact in how nursing is implementing evidence-based practice and researching into the practice setting.

After completing the direct entry MSN program, you may be eligible to enroll in our post master’s DNP program.

The advantages of a BSN can include:

  • Increased autonomy in decision making while on the job
  • Open doors to more specialties in the nursing field
  • Become a more attractive candidate for hospitals seeking Magnet Recognition
  • Build a foundation to grow into education or leadership pathways
  • Positions you better for nursing jobs with higher pay
  • Qualify to enroll in an MSN program
  • Become more familiar and educated with evidence-based practice opportunities
  • Increase knowledge and understanding of RN specialties and skills
  • Transition from “technical” to “professional” RN
  • Gain a deeper knowledge of nursing theory and leadership theory

A 2022 study from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) indicates employers have the level of education at top of mind in the hiring process. Based on responses from nursing schools, the survey revealed 69.8% of employers show a strong preference for BSN graduates.

The ultimate benefit is bettering yourself, becoming the best nurse you can be and following the career path of your choosing.

It’s a question of:

  1. What your goals are
  2. How quickly you want to reach them

If your goal is to go from LPN to RN quickly, the best choice may be an associate’s degree program since you may be able to become an RN in less than 2 years.

If your goal is to become an RN and potentially advance further by working towards a master’s degree in nursing (MSN), your best option is a bachelor’s degree in nursing program.

Read about the most basic differences between ADN vs. BSN and discover what's best for you.

There are many different nursing specialties to choose from. Depending on your personality, educational background and preferred working environment you can follow your own personalized path in the nursing profession.

Here are a few popular nursing specialties you may consider:

You can take our nursing personality quiz to get a better idea of what you might prefer in your nursing career.

There are a wide variety of different career paths in nursing, and depending on what makes the most sense for you there are several different types of nursing degrees you may consider:

  • Diploma in Practical Nursing. The fastest way to start your nursing career is to earn a diploma in practical nursing and become a Licensed Practical Nurse. This isn’t a “degree” but it’s an alternative starting point if you’re ready to get your feet wet in nursing.
  • Associate degree in nursing. Earn an associate’s degree in nursing and you’ll be eligible to site for the NCLEX and become a Registered Nurse (RN).
  • Bachelor’s in nursing. A bachelor’s degree is becoming the new educational standard for registered nurses, and it will qualify you for a master’s degree program.
  • Master’s in nursing. Many roles up the ladder in nursing will require a master’s degree.
  • Doctorate in nursing. Earn the terminal degree in nursing and reach the top of the field.

All schools have their own distinct degree programs based on their qualifications and areas of focus. Herzing University offers many different options to provide the shortest path to your destination no matter where you are right now, including campus bridge programs and online programs to help you reach the next level in your education. View all of our nursing programs.

Increasingly yes, but it ultimately depends on the institution who issued the degree.

As the popularity of online degrees continues to rapidly trend upward in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, so has mainstream acceptance of online degree programs.

Attitudes toward online degrees were already becoming more positive before the pandemic forced the issue. According to a 2019 study from Northeastern University, 61 percent of HR leaders say online learning is “of equal or greater quality to more traditional methods.” More than half believe that in the future, most advanced degrees will be online.

Regarding nursing applicants who earned online degrees, there are a few important factors employers consider:

  • The school and degree program’s accreditation. Herzing University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and programmatically accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).i
  • If you have earned nursing licensure. Our programs are designed to help you pass any necessary exams and become licensed before getting your first job.
  • The school’s reputation and history of producing excellent employees. Consider our many happy graduates and 50+ years producing more than 40,000 alumni.

For all these reasons employers know what it means when they see “Herzing University” on a resume!

i. Programmatic accreditation varies by program and by campus location. Find details about all Herzing University accreditations and approvals.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for registered nurses is $94,480 per year ($45.42 per hour)*. Nurses with a bachelor’s degree tend to fall on the upper side of that average due to their advanced education and their qualification to help hospitals earn Magnet Recognition.

The BLS projects a 6% increase in need for registered nurses from 2022-2032.* RNs are in demand, and earning a BSN can help your resume stand out and give you a better chance of getting the job you really want.

Take the first step

Every day, people go to the emergency room with life-threatening illnesses or injuries.

As an ER nurse, you can provide life-saving care and positively impact people’s lives.

Learn more about Herzing’s online and in-person nursing programs and how you can start the path to a rewarding nursing career today.

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* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics 2023 / Occupational Outlook Handbook 2022. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.

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