Are You Cut Out to be an ED Nurse?

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    For many nurses, the epitome of nursing is to work in the Emergency Department (ED). Witness the popularity of Nurse Jackie or the real life nurselebrity, Katie Duke, whose day-to-day antics in the ED have landed her two TV shows. Have you ever wondered if ED is a god fit for you? Read more to find out if you and ED are a good match.

    Are You Cut Out to be an ED Nurse?

    ED nurses are a special breed. They are highly skilled, compassionate folk who work well as a team. They are open to experience, and agreeable. Here are some more traits common to most ED nurses.

    Game On

    ED is a noisy, fast paced environment with stimulus coming from every direction. There is no normal in the ED. It's noisy and chaotic.

    ED Nurses Thrive In Chaos

    Unlike their neatnik ICU sisters and brothers, ED nurses don't require a controlled, structured environment. They adapt quickly to rapidly changing conditions.
    They tolerate ambivalence and prefer change to structure.

    Emotional Intelligence

    ED nurses are high in emotional intelligence. They can establish a rapport with an elderly woman desperately grasping her husband's hand as he is being rushed to surgery, and seconds later, elicit a giggle from the feverish two-year old in the next room.

    They can smoothly manage both the wife and girlfriend showing up at the same time situation. They can approach the busy doctor and get him/her to order the pain med they need for their patient...now.

    ED nurses may cry inside, but not on the job. They're not seen as overly emotive types. They remain calm while projecting an attentive demeanor. They have the ability to put highly anxious family members at ease while listening for the vent alarm in the next room over.

    Breadth Over Depth

    They prefer broad to deep. An ED nurse will not study H&Ps from previous encounters to delve deeply into patient history.

    They don't get bogged down in the details and are not interested in non-presenting patient complaints. They aren't there to study; they're there to stabilize.

    But they are comfortable with babies to toddlers to middle-agers to seniors.
    Heart rhythms are either normal, too slow or too fast. If it's too slow, speed it up. If too fast, slow it down. Done.

    Treat 'em and street 'em and.... next, please!

    Fast on Their Feet

    ED nurses make instant decisions, react quickly, and think fast on their feet. Often they do this with minimal information.

    Should they see the 58-year-old male clutching his chest or the 24-year-old doubling over with cramps or the 18-year-old with hand wrapped with dripping bloody gauze first?

    They can sniff out sepsis and spot an impending code.

    They make rapid assessments in under 30 seconds and can manage several emergent patient situations at once.

    ED nurses have excellent time management skills because they RACE from pod to pod, and front to back. They efficiently discharge, admit, transfer, treat and triage in record speed.

    Adrenaline Junkies

    Self-proclaimed junkies, ED nurses love the rush they get from true emergencies; a trauma, a pulseless John Doe...and never knowing what's rolling in next!

    They thrive on change, and preferably change with an element of risk or harm. ED nurses need high stimulation, charged action, and immediate results.

    Esprit d'Corps: High Fivers

    ED staff are often tight knit, team oriented, and socialize across job titles. They value their team identity and count on each other to survive. They form close ties to their work friends.

    They are highly social, known for having a wicked sense of humor, and are witty and sarcastic. They are friends with the EMTs, paramedics, policemen, and prison guards.
    Breakfast after your shift? They're in. Volleyball challenge from Respiratory Therapy? Accepted. Game on.

    Physical/Kinesthetic

    They're physical, always moving, have stamina, and cannot tolerate sitting for a shift. They can rig up practically anything and are creative at dressings.

    Always ready to spring into action, they dislike paper work and routine, repetitive tasks.

    Street Smart

    ED nurses score high in common sense and street smarts. They are down to earth and sensible.

    They are not easily conned, and they can spot maligners a mile away.


    Does this sound like you? Did you read this and keep thinking, "That's me! That's so me!"
    If so, you may be an ED nurse at heart. I hope this helps you find your nursing niche.


    Nurse Beth

    Last edit by Joe V on Oct 19, '17
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    45 Comments

  3. by   TheCommuter
    I'll never be cut out for the ED. I need routine, predictability, quietude, and lower acuity patients. I am a mellow type B person who needs to know what I will walk into on a day to day basis.

    I bow my head in total awe to those who work in the ED. I also thank goodness that there's something for almost everyone in the nursing profession.
  4. by   LJ85
    I'm an ER nurse for now. I may decide to test the waters in other specialties but I started in ER and tried to branch out leading me to start looking for another ER job soon after. I am always looking for change, if something becomes routine I start looking for something new...it's like an inborne instinct to keep moving...
  5. by   tnbutterfly
    I totally agree with you, Commuter. The ED is not for me.

    Although my current position is unpredictable and very busy at times with some long hours, I am not dealing with high acuity patients.

    My hats off and appreciation to the ED nurses!!!

    Thanks for the great article, Nurse Beth.
  6. by   emtb2rn
    ER nurse here. Well written description.

    The only change I would suggest is swap endorphin for adrenaline. I love being in the zone during an emergent situation. it's not fight or flight, but more of i have plenty of time to make that split second decision and act on that decision. With the endorphin rush, you see everything all at once and it just flows.
  7. by   loveu123
    Great article. I left bedside to administrative and don't think I could ever leave the ED. I still do PRN because I'm an adrenaline junkie and love the fact that I could never predict my dat.
  8. by   Nurse/Advocate
    Great article!
  9. by   datalore
    ED nurses are amazing, and I hope to be one someday. I thought, "That's me, a thousand times over" for each entry. It's in the 5-year plan!
  10. by   nurseSK711
    Every ED nurse I've ever known embodies these qualities to the fullest! Thanks for posting!
  11. by   Nurse Beth
    Quote from emtb2rn
    ER nurse here. Well written description.

    The only change I would suggest is swap endorphin for adrenaline. I love being in the zone during an emergent situation. it's not fight or flight, but more of i have plenty of time to make that split second decision and act on that decision. With the endorphin rush, you see everything all at once and it just flows.
    Thank you, I like that distinction You're right, it is endorphins, I've felt it
  12. by   Nurse Beth
    Quote from TheCommuter
    I'll never be cut out for the ED. I need routine, predictability, quietude, and lower acuity patients. I am a mellow type B person who needs to know what I will walk into on a day to day basis.

    I bow my head in total awe to those who work in the ED. I also thank goodness that there's something for almost everyone in the nursing profession.
    Me, too (bow my head to my ED sisters and brothers). That's what I love about nursing- endless choices to fit every nurse. We're lucky.
  13. by   Pumpkinn
    Reading this only solidifies what I know to be true --I'm an emergency nurse at heart. I can't wait to specialize into this field!
  14. by   Nurse Rachett
    Been doing ED Nursing for 16 years now. Yes at times there is adrenaline involved, but mostly time management is what is most needed. If you cannot turn on a dime and switch modes from a drunk combative patient, to your other patient having respiratory distress, your other patient having an MI, and the last one throwing up all over the room, then it is not for you !! But oh I love every minute of it. Sure we gripe about it all, but we come back for shift after shift .. You almost also have to be a good detective at times also. Plan on another good 14 years of doing ED nursing !!!

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