Operating or ER Nursing job experiences

Nurses General Nursing


Can someone tell me what a typical work day is like for either of the two? I am interested in majoring in one or the other over other types of nursing. Do they have to do care plans?


310 Posts

I'd suggest shadowing.

We can tell you how our day is, but really days vary based on facility. Some people work in level 1 trauma centers while others work in rural ERs- big difference. Others work in outpatient ENT surgery centers while others are on hospital transplant teams.

Shadow at multiple facilities in order to find one that you like.

PS- You don't major in a nursing specialty. You can take capstone classes in a given area, but you don't major in a specialty. There are new grad internships offered by many hospitals that train you in a specific area. I'd recommend looking into hospitals with those as well.

Good luck to you!

Specializes in ED, OR, SAF, Corrections.

Typical workdays can vary wildly due to many things, one as GOMER says depends on the Trauma level of the facility and even the region. I've worked both ED/Trauma Resus and Trauma OR and you can never really tell.

One thing you might also want to consider is that while the nursing focus for both (like any nursing focus) is on giving your best, safest nursing care, the nursing care is 'focused' on different things in the ED and the OR.

In the ED you will have multiple patients of varying degrees of severity of illness/injury and you will receive and discharge them all during your shift. Then, even if you become full and your ED goes on EMS diversion, that doesn't necessarily mean you will no longer receive any patients - they still walk in AND if all the other receiving hospitals are also on diversion, you start playing 'round robin' and guess what - you'll still get them - on a hospital rotating basis. And in many hospitals, just because you run out of rooms - hey there's a space along the hallway wall and there you've got another patient

The ED nurse be also be able to quickly assess and prioritize and re-assess and re-prioritize ALL of your patients constantly to keep up with your changing caseload. You'll start IV's, draw blood, administer Tx's, keep up on pending labs and chase down the ED docs (usually only 2 for all the patients, sometimes 3) to help keep them updated because they are only human and can only be one place at a time. Then there are the patients that have to be restrained, the frequent fliers, the local drunks you hold overnight, the family members who will drive you insane. If you can juggle about 20 balls and not drop any - you'll LOVE the ED.

In the OR, there are lots of procedures to learn, all requiring varying types of equipment, all of which you're responsible for hauling and setting up, and you'll also be juggling about the same number of balls but you'll be trapped in a room with a minimum of 2 MD's (Surgeon & Anesthesiologist) who if they want to, can make the devil look like a girl scout.

BUT (and this was a relief for my tired, old ass) - you will ONLY have 1 patient at a time (no matter if there are 30 scheduled for your room), you can do 1 and only 1 at a time. And another plus - no matter how cranky they are, they all go off to some form of sleep or sedation.

I loved the ED for the 9 years I was there, and have been happy in the OR for the last 9 I've been here. Different, both fulfilling and that's what's great about nursinig, you start feeling burned out in one area - you can try out something else and rediscover what made you want to be a nurse in the first place.

Just figure out what gets your blood rushing and try it - you can always move on if it doesn't fit.


353 Posts

you can major in a specific area now?

shoegalRN, RN

1,338 Posts

I did my Capstone in the OR and I figured out real quick that I didnt want to specialize in that area of nursing right out of nursing school. The OR is very specialized and although I am a routine person and somewhat anal, there was one thing I would miss while working in the OR and that's the patient contact.

You only get 10-15 minutes to establish a trusting relationship with your patient before you are taking them back to the OR. You spend majority of your time in the OR charting, setting up equipment for the surgeons, stocking supplies for your room, and running off getting supplies during the cases for the scrubs or the surgeons.

This is not what I wanted to do straight out of nursing school, although I spent hours watching Discovery Health before going to nursing school and just "knew" I wanted to be an OR nurse.

Three weeks into my Capstone, I asked to be moved to the PACU, and this is when I discovered my love for critical care. And I learned something else about myself, I love putting the pieces together and I also love the variety of patients. I am also a structured person, and discovered my personality would fit well within the ICU. And now I am a new Registered Nurse in the ICU of a Level I Trauma teaching hospital.

I would suggest you shadow both the ER and OR for atleast one full 12 hour shift before you make a decision. I never got to shadow an OR nurse before my Capstone. I did have OR observations during nursing school, but it was only for 4 hours at a time. I never got to experience the full perioperative experience from Pre-op, OR, to PACU.

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