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.

I work in the ED and definitely do not possess all of these qualities! Don't let the stereotype of ED nurses deter you from trying it out. I always thought it would be the last place I'd work and turns out there's nowhere I'd rather be!

That all sounds very much like me. Maybe I would like the ED. . . .

Thanks for the great article! I'm still a student but I've thought at great length on working as an ED nurse. After chuckling my way through your article (it sounds like me word for word!) I'm much more confident that ED is the right choice for me. Thank you!

I've been in nursing for 33 years. The first half was in the NICU. Loved it, but some of the parents.....well that why I left. Then switched to ED for 18 or 20 years, with some flight nursing thrown in. Loved the ED, but they are all the same. Same patients using ED as PCP, same psych patients, same patients, from the mission, brought in to sleep off their drunk from Listerine, same drug seeking patients. It got old. Now I'm in case management and love it as much as I did flight nursing. Now, I have the opportunity to get to know my patients, know what their norm is and recognize when something isn't right. I can tell you where I'll be and who I'll be seeing 2, 4, 6, 8 weeks from now (barring nothing happens). I work Monday - Friday, no more weekends and no more holidays!!!!! I feel like a human being. No more missing family and friend gatherings. Oh I still perk up when I hear the screaming sirens go down the highway and wonder what's going on, I don't think that will ever change. But for me it's time to settle down and slow down. Great description of an ED nurse. This one is done with all that now.

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

Good article. One thing I might add is that sometimes one does look at old records if a patient presents with symptoms that the nurse knows something is going on, but cannot put their finger on exactly what that is. ED nurses have a nose for things that don't add up.

Great article. ER nurse for years. Loved every minute!!