Are You Cut Out to be an Emergency Department (ED) Nurse?

For many nurses, the epitome of nursing is to work in the Emergency Department (ED). Have you ever wondered if ED is a good fit for you? Specialties Emergency Video Knowledge


Emergency Room 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

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.


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 paperwork 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.

Specializes in Med Surg, PCU, Travel.

Gsss well this sucks! According to this article, I'm not cut out to be an ED nurse yet it's an area of nursing I am interested in. So OP what about the rest of us, should we just never try to be in ED? Is it really that cut and dry? Right now floor nursing is NOT something I can see myself doing for the long term. I don't like having to see the same patients again and again day in day out for 2 weeks or more. I was an EMT several years ago and I liked patching people up and sending them off, never to see them again...of course I always wonders what happened after I dropped them off, which is kinda why I choose nursing. I like variety, but I also like structure.I'm part adrenaline junkie but work with calmness when under pressure.

I'd like other viewpoints, there must be other types who have been successful in the ED and not meet the typical definition of ED nurse in this article...or will I just set up for failure if I get into it? My plan was maybe to do 1 or 2 years in med-surg before I get into the ED.

I always thought I wanted to be an ED nurse but never went in that direction. I landed in the perioperative area where I found the espri de corps also. The pace is definitely different but it also shares the multiple patients with rapid turnover. This will sound bad but I will say it anyway. I feel too old, tired and fat to do ED now. That boat has sailed.

Specializes in Emergency, Correctional, Indigent Health.

I was in the ER for 20 years. It was a life I would not trade for anything. It was excitement, fear, exhilaration, and satisfaction all rolled into one wonderful experience. I never missed a shift. That is just me, but there was never anything that ever made me want to miss a shift. Many of my colleagues would call in sick, and admit later it was a mental health day for them. I was always surprised at that attitude, but never condemned it.

I did some shifts teaching paramedics in other ER facilities. I must admit that I was in a Level 3 Trauma unit. Not to much excitement. More of a neighborhood facility then a level one trauma center. During those brief engagements in those level one Trauma centers I was in awe at the level of stress these facilities exposed their employees too. I might have been burned out much sooner if my twenty years was in that type of a stressful environment. If I remember correctly the County Hospital in Miami at that time, offered like one paid one week off every ten weeks to try and maintain a concurrent staff, as the stress was so high. During my short time teaching paramedics, and watching the chaos that ensued those environments, I might not have been the 100% attendance person I can claim to be today.

Yet, the ER was the place for me. At one point I had dropped out of nursing and became a Professional Paramedic myself. Now that was the epitome of my total experiences. I was in professional heaven during those two years. The lights, the siren, the people parting the way to let me see the patient was a real "drug" for me. However, we were on food stamps, and my wife was on the WIC program while she carried our 4th child. That kid is now a captain in the Fire/Rescue service of a large metropolitan area. He is pulling down a larger salary than I ever made, even as a ARNP. He also loves it, and would never want to be anywhere else. When he calls on the phone often we talk about one experience after another. It has made us very very close.

The ER was always just what I needed. I cannot tolerate repetition. While a Paramedic the money for me was so bad I sought out a second position as a nurse to supplement my income. I even dropped out of the Paramedic position, and took a free 6 week ICU Nursing course offered by the local hospital. I was number one in my class, but when I went to the actual ICU position, I only lasted 3 days. It was not for me. In the ER at the time I could Treat'em or Street 'em in about 4 hours. That meant that no matter how bad they were, they weren't mine after about 4 hours. I need that kind of rapid turn over. The ER today may be a more long term environment which is one reason I left to become an ARNP. I kind of saw, "The writing on the wall."

Taking care of the "poor boy" who was in a coma in the ICU day after day was a real drag on who I was. I found I needed to be challenged constantly, but if it became an insurmountable challenge I needed that patient to be brought upstairs, where someone with those repetitive skills, could better take care of them. I have had so many incredible experiences because of my position in the ER. I could live another whole life and never need another experience to fulfill me. That ER experience served me well when I was in Correctional medicine as an ARNP, and again now as the provider in an indigent clinic. If any of this appeals to you too, welcome to the Emergency Department.

Ditto, Girl!!!

Hi everyone,

I currently work as an ED nurse.

Specializes in Emergency Nursing.

Absolutely LOVE ED nursing. I can't ever see myself doing anything else. It's my nurse identity. Lol

Specializes in Emergency.

The ED was my first job out of nursing school. While it was my first choice, I would not recommend it as the starting point of a nursing career. You are literally "learning on the run" and that can be overwhelming. That being said, I love the rapid pace, thinking on my feet, and the fact that no two shifts (or patients) are ever same. Every day I go home totally exhausted...and I love it!

Also, great article with a lot of truth!

Specializes in Med-surg, home care.

I do not know if I am cut out to be an ER nurse but I would definitely give it a try if I could. I like to be busy and thrive well in an unpredictable and chaotic environment. I am not an adrenaline junkie though and I am not sure if I could deal with going "full speed" for 12 hours straight (or more) but the ER is definitely something I would consider if and when the time comes.

ED nurses are nurses that are vested with skills and experience, you either love it or hate it, but the wealth of knowledge that a nurse is able to obtain or acquire is so undiscriptable that he or she will never be without a job. many nurses are also very confused thinking once they are ER NURSE that is all they can or will only be, due to my 7 years as an ER nurse, i have obtained opportunities as like being in Radiology and my most recent job, currently i am a telephonic triage nurse for a non profit organization with more than 11 clinics in nyc. all i do is triage patient's complaints over the phone and direct them to care ER or provide them an appt. with a PCP. am i not blessed and all this is d/t the ER. experience.

Specializes in ER/Tele, Med-Surg, Faculty, Urgent Care.
RuthieCRNA said:
I am just now beginning my journey as a nurse, I start school August 25, pursuing my second degree/career as a nurse. I was previously in Social Work. I am so very excited about this change I am beginning. As I read this article I was grinning from ear to ear! I kept saying yes. yes. YES! LOL I know I have years before I am skilled enough to fill these shoes, but oh I can not wait!!

I am confused. In your username you say CRNA, since you a nursing student, (correct me if I am wrong) you will need to change your username. Per the terms of service, you can not use a title (LPN, RN, FNP, CRNA, nurse, MD etc) that you have not yet earned.

I loved reading this! I have an ED interview coming up soon as a new grad! Reading this I kept saying oh that's me, that's me. So this calmed my nerves quite a bit :cool:

Specializes in ER, ICU/CCU, Open Heart OR Recovery, Etc.

I loved ED. It made me an incredibly versatile nurse that has seen a lot and am able to adjust to almost anything. After a number of years away, I am considering where I want to practice. As much as I loved it, I don't think I'm going to do it again but I wouldn't rule it out. Will wait and see.