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ER Nurse Career


What is an ER Nurse?


An ER nurse is a nurse that works specifically in the emergency room. They treat patients who are facing traumatic or severe, often life-threatening medical conditions. An ER nurse’s primary responsibility is to identify medical issues, determine severity, and provide immediate support to minimize negative long-term effects and, if necessary, even sustain life. An ER nurse is one of the first responders when a patient is admitted to the emergency room. 

While doctors and specialists may perform emergency surgeries, nurses are typically the first to see a patient. ER nurses must be capable of assessing a dire situation quickly and making the right decision. They may also be tasked with managing triage, ensuring the most critically affected patients receive care first. 


What Does an ER Nurse Do?

From fractured bones to car accidents, heart attacks to gunshot wounds, emergency room nurses see it all. As an emergency nurse, you’ll learn to quickly triage patients based on immediate observation and acute assessment skills, then treat their symptoms in order of which are the most life-threatening.

While no day is ever the same for nurses in the emergency room, here are some of the typical duties these nurses perform:

  • Triage cases in order of urgency and need.
  • Work with ER staff to stabilize incoming patients. 
  • Set broken bones. 
  • Perform tracheotomies and intubations. 
  • Give stitches and sutures.
  • Start intravenous lines (IVs). 
  • Administer medication—as instructed by physicians.
  • Create and maintain patient records.
  • Transfer stable patients to other wings.


How to Become an ER Nurse?

To become an emergency room nurse, you’ll first need to complete a nursing diploma, associate degree, or a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). You’ll then need to get your nursing licensure by taking your state's NCLEX-RN exam. This will qualify you to work as a registered nurse (RN). If you're currently an RN, earning your BSN can help you stand out and be more qualified for additional nursing roles.

If you’d like to move into a critical care role, particularly in the ER, you’ll next need to work as a nurse for at least two years and get your Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) credential. This nationally-accepted certification shows that you’ve attained a level of expertise in the standards and practices of emergency patient care, so you're ready for these critical situations.

You can also certify in these CEN specializations:

Most hospitals will hire nurses to the emergency department directly after CEN licensure. They’ll then provide nurses with both didactic training and an experienced preceptor as a mentor, which will help these nurses complete the intake process.

Best Degrees for an ER Nurse

Health & Nursing

Nursing (Prelicensure) – B.S.

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN and a...

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN and a baccalaureate-prepared nurse:

  • Locations: Due to in-person clinical requirements, students must be full time residents of FL, ID, IN, IA, KS, KY, NV, NM, NC, OH, OK, SC, TN, TX, UT to enroll in this program. The coursework in this program is offered online, but there are in-person requirements.
  • Tuition: $6,430 per 6-month term for the first 4 terms of pre-nursing coursework and $8,755 per 6-month term for the remaining 4 terms of clinical nursing coursework.
  • Time: This program has a set pace and an expected completion time of 4 years. Certain coursework may be accelerated to finish faster.
  • WGU offers the prelicensure program in areas where we have partnerships with healthcare employers to provide practice sites and clinical coaches to help teach you and inspire you on your path to becoming a nurse.
  • If you don't live in one of our prelicensure states or don't qualify to apply, consider getting our Bachelor's in Health and Human Services instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry, while also working directly with patients who need help.

Skills for your résumé that you will learn in this program:

  • Community Health
  • Women's and Children's Nursing
  • Pathology
  • Physiology
  • Research
Health & Nursing

Nursing (RN-to-BSN Online) – B.S.

An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking the added...

An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking the added theoretical depth, employability, and respect that a bachelor's degree brings:

  • Time: 61% of graduates finish within 20 months.
  • Tuition: $4,685 per 6-month term.
  • Courses: 23 total courses in this program.
  • Transfers: Students can transfer up to 90 credits.

Skills for your résumé that you will learn in this program:

  • Healthcare Policy and Economics
  • Information Technology in Nursing Practice
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Applied Healthcare Statistics

If you don't currently have an RN and don't qualify for your nursing prelicensure program, consider getting our Bachelor's in Health and Human Services instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry in a unique way.

How Much Does an ER Nurse Make?


ZipRecruiter reports that the national average salary for an ER nurse is $83,503. However, the pay range for emergency nurses can vary by as much as $30,000! This implies that there are many opportunities for advancement and raises based on your skill level, work location, and years of experience.

What Is the Projected Job Growth?


The BLS also predicts the demand for RNs, which includes ER nurses, is expected to grow by 6% from 2022 to 2032, faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is fueled by increasing rates of chronic conditions such as diabetes and obesity, the aging population, and an increase in emerging diseases like COVID-19.


What Skills Does an ER Nurse Need?

As an ER nurse, you must be able to act quickly to save a life hanging in the balance. Some of the skills necessary for an ER nurse career include:

  • The ability to act quickly
  • Listening and communication skills
  • Stay calm under extreme pressure
  • Integrity
  • Self-responsibility
  • The ability to stay strong in the face of catastrophic injuries
  • Capability to follow instructions closely
  • Task management
  • Organization
  • Attention to detail

Our Online University Degree Programs Start on the First of Every Month, All Year Long

No need to wait for spring or fall semester. It's back-to-school time at WGU year-round. Get started by talking to an Enrollment Counselor today, and you'll be on your way to realizing your dream of a bachelor's or master's degree—sooner than you might think!

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Interested in Becoming an ER Nurse?

Learn more about degree programs that can prepare you for this meaningful career.