Ashley Wilson
Posted July 25, 2021

Calling all ER nurses!

Learn what a day in the life of an ER nurse looks like, what responsibilities they have, and what nursing jobs are hiring now.
Ashley Wilson
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Calling all ER nurses!
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Does working in the healthcare field excite you? Have you ever wondered what a day in the life of an ER nurse looks like?

Or are you already working in healthcare but longing for a career change?

There are so many exciting and fulfilling careers available in the healthcare industry. One of the most important positions that creates an impact in people’s everyday lives is the role of an ER nurse.

But there are so many unknowns when considering a career change, especially in a field like nursing. Not everyone is a good fit for this type of work.

So what can you expect if you decide to undertake a career as a nurse in the emergency room? What does a day in the life of an ER nurse look like?

An ER nurse’s day isn’t easy to describe as it can vary day-to-day, but there are several factors that all of them have in common.

Let’s explore what ER nurses do, what responsibilities they have, and what a typical day in their lives looks like in the emergency room.

What do ER nurses do?

Emergency room nurses treat patients in a hospital, specifically in the emergency department.

While ER nurses need to be licensed Registered Nurses (RNs), they don’t need any other specialties. They can come from a variety of backgrounds, including trauma, cardiovascular, palliative care, and any other nursing specialty.

ER nurses will need to manage a variety of tasks while in the emergency department.

Whether it’s treating small puncture wounds, assessing broken bones, dealing with motor vehicle accident trauma, or treating sports injuries, ER nurses see it all.

They’ll also need to triage patients based on their own observations and provide care in order of priority.

Some patients will have more life-threatening symptoms than others that require immediate attention, while others will require same-day care, but can wait a few hours without causing harm.

In some cases, it’ll be easy to triage patients, but in others, it’ll require you to carefully assess the situation and make difficult decisions.

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These nurses work in collaboration with physicians, other nurses, and other healthcare professionals on the emergency floor to provide care for emergency patients.

As a result, ER nurses are the first line of defense to help patients suffering from ailments requiring urgent medical care.

This career is one of the highest-paying blue-collar jobs available, with nurses making an average of $71,935 per year.

Most of an ER nurse’s time is spent treating patients. 59% of an ER nurse’s time is spent on direct patient care, while 28% of their time is spent working on documentation.

Usually, ER nursing shifts last up to 12 hours. These shifts can occur on weekdays, evenings, nights, and weekends.

ER nurse job description

Most job descriptions for ER nurses will describe the best qualities required to do the job.

Typically, a successful ER nurse needs to be:

  • Compassionate

  • Quick-thinking

  • Capable of decisive action

  • Able to thrive in a disorganized state

  • Effective at communicating

  • A strong team player

ER nurses also need to have a strong stomach.

Because ER nurses are registered nurses, you’ll also need a Bachelor’s degree in nursing. This will show up on most job descriptions.

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ER nurse job responsibilities

ER nurse responsibilities may include (but aren’t limited to) the following:

  • Maintaining emergency room care standards

  • Doing triage work for patients entering the emergency department

  • Provide medical care and administer medicine to patients

  • Develop a plan to manage care for a patient

  • Monitor several patients under their care, including vital signs and blood pressure

  • Assist physicians in checking in with patients

  • Generating initial insurance paperwork for patients

  • Working closely with physicians and other healthcare professionals to keep patients and family members up to date on results and recommended treatments

  • Communicate with laboratory staff to report lab results with ER physicians

  • Perform frequent wellness checks on patients

These responsibilities will change depending on the current staffing situation and the types of patients received in the emergency room.

ER nurse vs floor nurse

Floor nurses are in charge of the basic care of the patients on their hospital floor or in their unit. They work outside of the emergency room.

ER nurses and floor nurses have very different daily experiences. While an ER nurse’s day can be chaotic due to the unpredictability of the emergency room, a floor nurse will need to be more organized.

Floor nurses can have a set pattern in their day. But ER nurses cannot. Every day will bring a different set of challenges.

ER nurses will be focused on getting patients in and out of the emergency room to make space for the next patients in line, but floor nurses can make short-term to long-term plans for their patients.

Additionally, floor nurses will have a specific number of beds to manage. They’ll rarely have more patients to care for than the number of beds they have.

On the other hand, ER nurses also have a limited number of beds, but they can’t turn away patients who need care. So, if they have a waiting room full of sick and injured people, they need to find a way to make space for everyone.

As a result, the ER is more reliant on teamwork, especially if one nurse is falling behind.

A day in the life of an ER nurse

Now that you know what an ER nurse does and what responsibilities they have, let’s walk through what a potential day looks like when you have this career.

5:55: The first thing you’ll need to do is clock in to work. Next, you’ll need to get a report from the other nurses who are leaving their shifts. This is known as the starting huddle, and this is where you’ll receive critical information you need about your current patients. You’ll also need to review the charts for the patients that are currently in your assigned zone.

6:20: You’ve now assessed the rooms under your care. You can typically expect to have four to six patients, but you can occasionally get more. You know that your third room needs to be stocked with supplies, and based on your assessments of your patients, you understand the current priorities between them.

7:00: At this point, you’ve brought in a new patient, so you’ve started an intravenous line on them and drawn blood. You’ve also documented the medical histories of all the patients under your care.

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7:30: You receive a new patient coming by ambulance. It’s your job to make a differential diagnosis to rule out potential issues. You also need to take this patient’s history and current medications.

7:40: You receive a discharge, which involves taking vital signs one last time, removing their IV, and providing some thorough instructions for the patient. You let them know what signs to watch out for, how to take their prescriptions at home, and what other follow-ups will be necessary based on their ailments.

8:30: You have a few minutes to spare, so you clean up your rooms and take a bathroom break.

9:00: Two more patients come in. Both came in on their own, without an ambulance. While you may see patients with a variety of symptoms, some of the most common symptoms you may see during your day in the emergency room include:

  • Chest pains

  • Concussions

  • Cuts, bruises, and lacerations

  • Infections

  • Skin rashes

  • Breathing difficulties

  • Abdominal pain

  • Allergic reactions

  • Fever

So, for instance, if you receive someone with breathing difficulties, you’ll need to assess their oxygen saturation. Other measures may be needed depending on the patient’s symptoms and history, including a chest x-ray, an IV, and bloodwork.

Some patients may require an immediate transfer to the operating room or Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

10:00: In addition to checking in on your patients, you’ll also need to analyze the lab results, CT scans, and other documents for previous patients that arrived earlier. Depending on the results, you’ll need to consult with a physician to decide the best course of action to take for each patient.

11:00: You may experience a rush at a certain point in the day. If your beds fill up, this may require you to place some patients in the hallway. It'll be your job to evaluate which patients have the highest priority, depending on their symptoms.

Often, you’ll get new nurses coming in for a swing shift in the middle of your own, so they'll be able to help with the rush. In the meantime, you and the other ER nurses will need to help each other out to make sure patient care doesn’t fall between the cracks.

Between 12:00 and 15:00, you’ll take short breaks to eat your lunch bite by bite. You’ll most often be interrupted by new lab results you need to analyze, a patient that needs to be discharged, necessary patient education, rooms that need cleaning, and new incoming patients.

Long lunch breaks will be rare, but you’ll take advantage of the early afternoon lull to eat when you can.

15:30: You receive a code blue from another nurse. You rush in to support your fellow nurses to provide emergency care for their patient, since they are experiencing a respiratory arrest. You’re joined by physicians, a respiratory therapist, and a pharmacist.

17:00: At this time, you’ll expect another rush. You have one more hour to go, and at this point the swing-shift nurses have clocked out. You ask your colleague to take blood work for your first patient while you attend to your second patient, who requires your support.

17:55: Your shift is almost over. The night shift is coming in, so it’ll be your responsibility to give them the report on the current patients in your zone. Before you leave, you take a final round to check on your patients and verify their vital signs. You also let them know that you are clocking out, and the night nurse will be taking care of them for the next 12 hours.

18:19: You’re ready to clock out. Although your shift ends at 18:00, you’ll rarely be out the door by 18:00 sharp. This is so you can take the time to give a proper report, check on your patients, and change out of your scrubs.

Nursing jobs hiring now

Nurses are in high demand, especially ER nurses. It’s a demanding job that requires lots of compassion and a strong stomach, but it can be very fulfilling for the right people.

You can find jobs in nursing right now by going to JobCase and searching for nursing jobs near you. You can even filter the job opportunities based on your experience.

So, if you’re an entry-level nurse, you can choose to see only entry-level positions.

As you gain more experience, you can find more opportunities to work in the ER.

Start a rewarding career as an ER nurse

Does a day in the life of an ER nurse sound like an exciting challenge for you?

Becoming an ER nurse isn’t the easiest profession, but it’ll allow you to care for a wide variety of patients from all walks of life. If providing life-saving care to others is what motivates you, this career is one of the best ways to fulfill your calling.

If you have the qualifications needed, you can start applying to ER nursing jobs right away. You can also network with other healthcare professionals to help further your career using Jobcase. Check out the nursing jobs available near you right now on Jobcase..


How does the thought of being an ER nurse make you feel?

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Beatrice Pesqueira

Thank you for your post.

Thank you for your post.

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