Trauma nursing is a unique specialty in which nurses must be able to thrive on chaos. This article gives an overview of the specialty, discusses education requirements, outlines some possible associated board certifications, and provides resources for further exploration.
What is Trauma Nursing?
Trauma nurses specialize in caring for patients injured through trauma, be it accidental or intentional. Trauma nurses must be well versed in stabilizing patients and rapidly recognizing impending life threats. Patients will range in age from neonates to centenarians. Care of these patients can range from short-term in the emergency department (ED) or dedicated trauma unit to long-term in ICUs and rehabilitation units. When these patients enter the system, they don't necessarily arrive with an obvious diagnosis and can benefit from the clinical acumen of experienced trauma nurses. This specialty also requires close coordination and communication with members of the treatment team, ancillary services, and family members.
Trauma nurses comes in many flavors, including LPNs, ADN-prepared RNs, BSN-prepared RNs, MSN-prepared RNs, and Nurse Practitioners in mid-level provider roles. Not all types of nurses will be present in all trauma units as hiring preferences vary by location.
Additional certifications that trauma nurses may be required to obtain or might pursue include: Basic Life Support (BLS), Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS), Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS), Trauma Nursing Core Course (TNCC), Emergency Nursing Pediatric Course (ENPC), and Advanced Burn Life Support (ABLS). Additional courses may be required by or available at other locations; this list is not all-inclusive.
Two emergency-related board certifications that Trauma RNs may have or seek to obtain Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) credential and the Certified Pediatric Emergency Nurse (CPEN) credential. To qualify for the CEN, one must be an RN with an unrestricted license in the US or its territories, and there is no minimum practice requirement, though two years is recommended. To qualify for the CPEN, a candidate must hold a current unrestricted RN license in the United States or Canada and have practiced at least 1,000 hours in pediatric emergency nursing practice as an RN in the preceding 24 months. Links to the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN) exams are available in the "Resources" section below.
A new trauma-specific board certification is the BCEN's Trauma Certified Registered Nurse (TCRN) credential. To sit for the exam, one must hold a current unrestricted RN license in the United States or its Territories, and a nursing certificate that is equivalent to a US RN is also acceptable. Two years of trauma experience is recommended with 1,000 hours per year across the trauma continuum, and 20-30 hours of trauma-specific coursework. A link to more information about the TCRN is below.
In the critical care/Trauma ICU arena, trauma nurses may have or wish to pursue the Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) certification. To qualify to take the CCRN exam, RNs and APRNs must have a current, unencumbered license in the United States. Exam candidates must also meet one of two clinical practice requirement options: 1) practice as an RN or APRN for 1,750 hours in direct care of acutely/critically ill patients during the previous two years, with 875 of those hours accrued in the most recent year preceding application; or 2) practice as an RN or APRN for at least five years with a minimum of 2,000 hours in direct care of acutely/critically ill patients, with 144 of those hours accrued in the most recent year preceding application. The exam is available for three populations of care: adults, pediatrics, and neonates. Practice hours are those spent caring for a single patient population (adult, pediatric or neonatal) matching the exam for which you are applying. Applicants must include the contact information of a professional reference who can verify clinical practice. A link to CCRN information is available in the "Resources" section below.
Trauma nurses often work in the hospital-based ED setting, though some facilities have dedicated trauma units that receive only trauma cases meeting certain criteria. Typically a trauma nurse can expect to have unlicensed assistive personnel resident in the department, such as unit secretaries, registration associates, and Patient Care Technicians (PCTs). The broader interdisciplinary team also includes radiology techs, lab techs, respiratory therapists, and other specialists who participate in caring for trauma patients. The entire team, including providers, works closely to stabilize and care for patients.
Some facilities also have Trauma ICUs (TICUs). These units are typically staffed with similar assistive personnel and also include a broad interdisciplinary team with the goal of moving the patient toward recovery and eventually a step-down unit or rehabilitation facility.
Trauma nurses should possess excellent assessment skills to identify and reverse potential life threats. Often trauma nurses are the first to see trauma patients; as such, rapid recognition and identification of issues is essential. The environment is fast-paced and constantly changing, and a trauma nurse must be able to thrive in the chaos of trauma resuscitation. As trauma resuscitation methods are constantly changing and improving through research, trauma nurses should constantly seek new evidence-based information via professional journals and online networking.
Though the downturn in hiring has certainly affected nursing across the board, this is a specialty that has been relatively stable for experienced nurses. New graduate nurses may have more difficulty with direct entry into trauma nursing practice, but because emergency nursing opportunities remain available and desirable, that specialty could serve as a gateway to a trauma nursing role.
Salary will vary by education and location. Trauma nurses typically work in shifts, which results in shift differential and other benefits.
Society of Trauma Nurses
Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing - Trauma Certified Registered Nurse (TCRN)
Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing - Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN)
Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing - Certified Pediatric Emergency Nurse (CPEN)
AACN: CCRN CertificationLast edit by Pixie.RN on Apr 5, '16 : Reason: Adding TCRN Information
About Pixie.RN, MSN, RN, EMT-P Senior Moderator
Pixie.RN: a short green-eyed redhead, very tattooed, Emergency/Trauma Nurse, former CPT/66T (Army). Avid reader, addicted to good shoes, allnurses, and her Android smartphone.
Pixie.RN has 'NREMT-P: 13, RN: 8' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'ED/Trauma'. From 'everywhere and nowhere - global nomad'; Joined Aug '05; Posts: 14,759; Likes: 10,988.Nov 24, '13 by vintage_RN, BSNI'm in a surgical trauma unit...meaning after trauma patients are stabilized in the ER...they come to us. I love it!May 28, '14 by KatieDenisonI am new to this site and I have a phone interview next week for a PCU float position. I have work with cardiac/PCU/neuro and some vascular PTs for the last three years but I am very nervous about what thewill be. What do I need to make sure that I know. Any assistance of words would be appreciated. ThanksMay 29, '14 by Pixie.RN, MSN, RN, EMT-P Senior ModeratorQuote from KatieDenisonHi Katie! Welcome to allnurses. I was going to suggest the interview advice forum, but I see you found it! I think you'll probably need to talk about some usual stuff -- goals and plans, how you handle certain situations, your strengths, that kind of thing. Sounds like you've had some great experience along the way, so be confident! Best of luck.I am new to this site and I have a phone interview next week for a PCU float position. I have work with cardiac/PCU/neuro and some vascular PTs for the last three years but I am very nervous about what thewill be. What do I need to make sure that I know. Any assistance of words would be appreciated. ThanksMar 29, '16 by Pixie.RN, MSN, RN, EMT-P Senior ModeratorUpdated to include the new TCRN credential information.Apr 8, '16 by Trauma_drama14, BSN, RNI transferred to my hospital's Trauma/SICU in September and I love it! Trauma season is here, bring it on!Apr 10, '16 by Pixie.RN, MSN, RN, EMT-P Senior ModeratorQuote from Trauma_drama14Congrats! Are you hearing trauma ICU nurses talking about the new TCRN board certification?I transferred to my hospital's Trauma/SICU in September and I love it! Trauma season is here, bring it on!Apr 10, '16 by Trauma_drama14, BSN, RNPixie, I have not but I'm sure I'll start hearing about it soon. I talked to our educator not too long ago and said it isn't a requirement for our floor... Which is very surprising. It's a requirement for our trauma advanced care unit but not the ICU... Odd.
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