How to Become an ER Nurse

NursingOctober 13, 2023

How to Become an ER Nurse

Hospitals and emergency rooms rely on the knowledge and expertise of skilled nurses to provide quality care to their patients every day. Emergency room (ER) nurses collaborate with doctors and other medical professionals to treat critical care patients as quickly and effectively as possible, often responding to acute or severe conditions. 

Aspiring care professionals can learn how to become an ER nurse and acquire the skills to succeed in the emergency room by completing higher education, such as an associate nursing degree or a practical nursing program.

What Does an ER Nurse Do?

Working in critical and urgent care teams nationwide, emergency room or trauma nurses are trained to react quickly in stressful and high-risk medical situations. Whether in a hospital, in rescue operations, or as part of an event-based medical team, emergency room nurses are frontline responders who are responsible for stabilizing patients and providing necessary immediate care services. 

ER nurses perform many of the same tasks as regular licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and registered nurses (RNs). However, when exploring how to become an ER nurse, students must consider the role’s unique working conditions and scenarios. For example, aspiring nurses should determine whether they want to provide care in fast-paced environments or regularly perform in stressful situations.  

The duties ER nurses may be tasked with can include:

  • Organizing, documenting, and collecting patient information
  • Monitoring a patient’s vital signs and providing care services or medications
  • Conducting patient examinations and collaborating with doctors and other medical professionals
  • Assisting in emergency procedures and surgeries
  • Informing patients and their loved ones about medical conditions 
  • Using medical equipment during exams and procedures
  • Coordinating with social workers or hospital managers to oversee patient discharge instructions
  • Managing life-threatening situations and providing emergency care such as resuscitation 

Steps to Become an ER Nurse

The path to becoming an ER nurse follows many of the same milestones as becoming a standard LPN or RN.  One difference may be the addition of field-specific certifications, depending on the chosen ER nurse role. Learning how to become an ER nurse requires pursuing a nursing education, gaining valuable workplace experience, and completing licensure examinations as specified by their state. 

1. Earn a Degree

Earning a higher education credential is a requirement for those looking to become practical or registered nurses. When starting their careers, prospective nurses have the option to choose between a practical nursing training program, an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

For some students, the BSN is preferable if they are looking to become an advanced practice registered nurse by completing either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). While this path can open multiple doors to administrative positions, nurse practitioner specializations, or educator roles, it is a much longer commitment and requires several years of dedicated education. 

Alternatively, nurses can pursue a practical nursing credential or an ADN, which are typically one- to two-year programs. This choice can be made prior to becoming an LPN or an RN and seeking out a position in emergency nursing. Learning how to become an ER nurse through a practical nursing or ADN program is a great option for those who are looking to enter the workforce as quickly as possible. These programs also leave the door open for additional education or certification if students choose to continue their education and advance their careers after gaining workplace experience. 

2. Develop Key Skills

The high-pressure situations faced by emergency room nurses require them to build a wide range of technical and soft skills. In terms of hard skills, ER nurses must learn how to operate different types of medical equipment as well as conduct emergency procedures such as Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) or Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS). 

The soft skills required of those learning how to become an ER nurse can include:

  • Strong communication: Navigating high-pressure situations requires teamwork. Nurses must be able to build trust and cooperation with both their patients and coworkers.
  • Composure: The ability to stay calm in stressful situations can be instrumental in providing effective emergency care.
  • Active listening: By listening to patients’ concerns, nurses can provide individualized care and encourage patients to abide by their treatment plan.
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving: Emergency nursing is based on making optimal care decisions as efficiently as possible. The ability to analyze a situation objectively and find a solution is essential to effective patient care. 

3. Earn Licensure and Certifications

The requirements for nurse licensure and continuing education vary from state to state, making it imperative that prospective nurses understand the necessary procedures for their desired state of employment. Prospective LPNs and RNs must pass the NCLEX-PN or NCLEX-RN exam before gaining state licensure.

While certifications from professional associations are often not required, they may be preferred by prospective employers. Registered nurses may look to certifications such as the Certified Emergency Nurse credential from the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing, or a similar certification offered by associations such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center. LPNs can pursue certification in specialized skills from organizations such as the National Association of Practical Nurse Education and Service (NAPNES). Nurses can also take learning courses such as the Trauma Nurse Core Course offered by the Emergency Nurses Association.

4. Gain Work Experience

Gaining workplace experience is invaluable. It’s part of becoming an ER nurse in terms of learning on the job and becoming a more skilled practitioner, as well as fulfilling employer requirements. For many certifications and specializations, workplace experience is a required stepping stone in career advancement. 

5. Continue Professional Advancement

ER nurses have an opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of patients during some of the most challenging events in their lives. Depending on the educational path they chose while learning how to become an ER nurse, graduates can pursue additional bridge degree programs, graduate-level degree programs, certifications, or specializations to open new doors in their careers. For instance, some nurses may become nurse practitioners and earn emergency nurse practitioner certification. 

Job Outlook for ER Nurses

As a whole, nursing professionals are in high demand nationwide. According to experts such as the American Nurses Association, the country is facing a growing shortage of skilled nurses. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects approximately 193,100 employment openings for RNs each year between 2022 and 2032. 

Depending on their level of education and qualifications, individuals who invest in specialized training have the opportunity to improve their earning potential and seek out desirable or competitive roles across the country. ER nurses who invest in additional certifications, education, or work experience can seek out roles in desirable locations, pursue senior-level hospital roles, or explore opportunities in different areas of first response. 

Pursue a Fulfilling Career as an ER Nurse

Emergency room nursing is an exciting, demanding, and fulfilling field, requiring nurses to think on their feet and provide care in various critical care situations. Exploring how to become an ER nurse can be a great opportunity for students looking to pursue a meaningful and challenging profession. 

Enrolling in a nursing education program, such as the Practical Nursing or Associate Degree in Nursing offerings from Fortis, can be beneficial for those looking to get a jump start on their nursing careers. 

Offering programs that suit the needs of both new nursing students and those looking to continue their education, Fortis is dedicated to providing students with the practical knowledge and skills to succeed. 

Discover how Fortis can help you begin a fulfilling career as an ER nurse. 

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American Nurses Association, Nurses in the Workforce
American Nurses Credentialing Association, Emergency Nurse Practitioner Certification (ENP-BC)
Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing, Certified Emergency Nurse
Emergency Nurses Association, Trauma Nurse Core Course
Incredible Health, “How to Become an Emergency Room (ER) Nurse”
Indeed, “Paths To Becoming an ER Nurse (Educational Requirements)”
National Association of Practical Nurse Education and Service, Certifications
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses