Should I Be an Emergency Room Nurse? Questions to Ask Yourself

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

You may be asking yourself, “Is the Emergency Department (ED) the right place for me to be a nurse?” It’s not an unusual things to be asking yourself this question. The emergency department setting is unlike any other in healthcare. Patients will present at all ages and stages of life and health, with a vast array of medical conditions. Trained in emergency nurse training programs, ED nurses are on the forefront of every national epidemic and will need to be able to address issues that might range from a bloody nose to human trafficking and the consequences of drug and alcohol addiction. Patients will need to be treated in an environment that is often noisy and busy and may appear chaotic to the untrained eye. As a new nurse you may be fairly confident in your clinical skills, but how can you be sure that you are uniquely qualified to succeed in this setting?

Six Questions to Ask about Becoming an ED Nurse

You can help evaluate whether you have the soft skills required of nurses in this setting by asking and answering these six questions.

  1. Can you accelerate and decelerate as necessary?

    While they may be few and far between, there are actually times when an emergency department will feel less chaotic than others, but that can change in an instant. Nurses practicing in this setting will need to be able to regularly “change gears” in order to think clearly, make good clinical decisions and to assess patient needs in a department that is suddenly chaotic due to an increase in volume and/or patient acuity.

  2. Can you remain calm in the midst of chaos?

    Managing multiple priorities in a busy setting can only be accomplished when the clinical team is able to remain calm and focused. Performing clinical skills in the relative calm of the classroom setting is quite different from using those same skills on a Saturday night in an urban ED. A calm clinical staff can also help calm patients who are frightened and in pain and can also be a source of comfort to family members and to each other.

  3. Will you be able to effectively suspend you own judgements and opinions in order to remain an effective advocate for the health and wellbeing of your patients?

    The ED is the bellwether for our culture. Children injured by their parents and others entrusted with their care, people severely injured by their partners and patients whose poor choices regarding alcohol and drugs resulted in their hospitalization are likely to arouse strong personal feelings. Great ED nurses need to be able to put these feelings aside in order to remain an effective advocate for their patients.

  4. Can you successfully multitask and manage time well?

    It is not unusual for an ED nurse to manage 10 or more patients simultaneously. Prioritizing and coordinating treatment for that many patients at once requires strong time management skills. In this setting, nurses have a prominent role in assessing patients, discharge instructions and inter-departmental communication as well as patient care. 

  5. Are you assertive enough to be an effective advocate for your patients in this setting?

    Sick, injured and frightened patients are not always able to advocate for themselves and family members may also be poorly-equipped to serve in this capacity. Patient advocacy is a key function of ED nursing. Being assertive enough to voice clinical, quality and safety concerns is an essential ED nursing skill.

  6. Do you have good coping skills?

    At the end of a day where a nurse has been able to accelerate when necessary, remain calm in the face of chaos, manage time successfully, put their personal feelings aside and successfully advocate for their patients, he or she is still left with the task of coping with that days’ myriad of difficult situations. The very best nurse may eventually be rendered ineffective without this important skill.

    New graduates can have a difficult time transitioning to professional practice. The ED Specialty Track of HealthStream’s Nurse Residency Pathway can help close the academic to practice gap and help prepare new nurses for their lifelong learning journey. It can also serve as a means to help nurses determine the optimum professional fit for their specialty.