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Trauma Nurse Career

How to Become a Trauma Nurse

Every three minutes, a person dies from injury. That’s 20 people an hour, or 480 people a day. Burns, falls, stabbing, electrocutions, car accidents, work accidents, and more. Trauma certified registered nurses (TCRNs) are at the forefront of dealing with these critical or life-threatening injuries. They are the ones that work as first responders in emergency departments, often in tandem with emergency transport teams, to help save lives and care for victims. They work directly with ER physicians, trauma surgeons, and more. High numbers of accidents and violent crimes mean that these nurses will continue to be in high demand for years to come. These nurses work in emergency rooms, critical care wards, trauma centers, and more. Sometimes called emergency nurses, ER nurses, these medical professionals are key to lives being saved.

Learn more about emergency nursing and how you can become one of these nurses with the help of a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Nurse wheeling baby incubator

What Is a Trauma Nurse?

A trauma nurse is a specialized nurse trained to deal with life-threatening or critical injuries. Trauma certified registered nurses (TCRNs) are calm under pressure and have a high level of experience and training. Trauma nurses often work in the ER or intensive care unit. Trauma nurses must be especially skilled at providing life-saving care like CPR and defibrillation.

What Does a Trauma Nurse Do?

The main role of emergency nursing is to stabilize patients and keep them alive. 

Some of the duties of trauma nurses include:

  • Triaging patients or working with triage nurses to help focus on the most critical patients first
  • Recognizing the signs of deterioration in unstable patients
  • Giving first aid, CPR, or other emergency medical care as needed
  • Giving emergency medications
  • Giving IV fluids or blood transfusions
  • Performing wound care
  • Working directly with physicians to give updates on medical conditions, wounds, and injuries
  • Working with patients and their families to give reassurance and direction
  • Providing resources to patients who have gone through a traumatic injury or event
  • Reporting cases of abuse or neglect
  • Working with law enforcement if criminal activity is involved
  • Maintaining proper documentation of the care of patients
  • Working calmly and carefully while dealing with life-threatening injuries
  • Making quick decisions to best serve patients
  • Juggling many different tasks and cases simultaneously
  • Following instructions carefully during chaos

How Do I Become a Trauma Nurse?

Trauma nurses are specialized registered nurses, so the steps to becoming a TCRN will depend on your state regulations for registered nursing. However, the requirements for becoming a registered nurse and then a trauma nurse are fairly similar across states. Typically it will take several years to become a nurse that deals with critical care and trauma—you’ll first have to become an RN and then additionally have several years of trauma experience before you can become fully certified.

There are several educational paths you can take to become an RN and then move to trauma nursing. To become a trauma nurse:

  • Earn a nursing diploma that leads to licensure through a hospital or school program. This isn’t a degree program but is instead a course program that prepares you for the NCLEX and gives you a diploma that qualifies you for certification.
  • Earn an ADN. An Associate Degree in Nursing is a popular option for those who want to become RNs. This program allows you to earn an associate degree while preparing for the NCLEX and RN certification.
  • Complete a BSN program. A Bachelor of Science in Nursing is one of the best options for those who want to become an RN. A BSN program will boost your résumé, prepare you for the NCLEX and RN certification, and will make you an attractive candidate especially for hospitals that are working to achieve magnet status. If you want to work in trauma and are already an RN, a BSN can help make you more qualified and prepared for a specialty.

What Degrees are Best for a Trauma Nurse?

Nursing (Prelicensure) – B.S.

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

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you...

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

  • Locations: offered in FL, IN, TX, MO, and UT only.
  • Tuition and fees: $6,575 per 6-month term.

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 Degree in Health Services Coordination instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry, while also working directly with patients who need help.

Nursing – Leadership and Management (RN-to-MSN) – M.S.

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and is a...

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and...

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and is a substantial leap toward becoming a nurse leader.

  • Time: 75% of RN-to-MSN grads finish within 42 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,795 per 6-month term during undergraduate portion, $4,385 per 6-month term during graduate portion, plus a Health Professions Student Fee of $350.

Some careers and jobs this degree will prepare you for:

  • Director of Nursing
  • Chief Nursing Officer
  • Quality Director
  • Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Project Manager

If you're driven to lead, this online nursing degree will provide you everything needed to make that career a reality.

Compare degrees
This program is not the only degree WGU offers designed to create leaders in the field of healthcare. Compare our health leadership degrees by clicking the button below.

Compare Similar Degrees

Nursing Leadership and Management – Post-Master's Certificate

A certificate for registered nurses with a master's degree in...

A certificate for registered nurses with a...

A certificate for registered nurses with a master's degree in nursing who are ready for greater responsibility in a leadership and management role.

  • Time: 12 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $4,385 per 6-month term, plus a one-time Health Professions Fee of $350. The cost to sit for the NAHQ Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality (CPHQ) exam is included in tuition.

Sample careers and jobs this degree program will prepare you for:

  • Director of Nursing
  • Chief Nursing Officer
  • Quality Director
  • Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Project Manager

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of medical and health services managers to grow 17% by 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Nursing (RN-to-BSN Online) – B.S.

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

An online BSN degree program for registered...

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

  • Time: 66% of graduates finish within 18 months.
  • Tuition and Fees: $3,795 per 6-month term, plus a Health Professions Student Fee of $350.
  • Transfers: On average, students transfer 81 credits.

With over 35,000 BSN alumni, this is one of WGU's most popular online degree programs. View our RN to BSN degree guide.

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

Nursing – Leadership and Management (BSN-to-MSN) – M.S.

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree who are ready for...

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree...

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree who are ready for greater responsibility:

  • Time: 82% of grads finish within 24 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $4,385 per 6-month term, plus a Health Professions Student Fee of $350.

Sample careers and jobs this degree program will prepare you for:

  • Director of Nursing
  • Chief Nursing Officer
  • Quality Director
  • Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Project Manager

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of medical and health services managers to grow 17% by 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Compare degrees

This program is not the only degree WGU offers designed to create leaders in the field of healthcare. Compare our health leadership degrees by clicking the button below.

Compare Similar Degrees

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What Certification is Needed to Become a Trauma Nurse?

After earning your degree, you’ll need to pass other requirements in order to become an RN. You’ll need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam and meet your other state requirements to be eligible for nursing licensure.

After you pass your exam and become an RN you’ll need to gain additional certifications to prepare you for trauma nursing. Trauma nurses need to be certified in basic life support, advanced cardiac life support, and often pediatric advanced life support. Depending on where you want to work, there may be additional requirements for trauma nurses. The Trauma Nursing Core Course and Emergency Nurse Pediatric Course may also be required.

Ultimately most trauma nursing positions will require nurses to be Trauma Certified Registered Nurse licensed. In order to obtain the TCRN you will have to meet the following requirements:

  • Possess an active, unrestricted RN license
  • Two years or 1,000 practice hours in trauma nursing, including direct and indirect patient care
  • Twenty to thirty hours of trauma-specific coursework 

How Much Does a Hospice Nurse Make?

$91,000

According to ZipRecruiter, in 2021 trauma nurses make an average of $91,025 per year.   Average salaries vary by state and the top 3% can make more than $143,000 annually.

What Is the Projected Job Growth?

9%

There’s currently a nursing shortage, making qualified RNs more in-demand than ever. According to the BLS, job opportunities for RNs are expected to grow 9% by 2030. Trauma nurses are in particularly high demand, as it is a rigorous and challenging field in need of highly skilled nurses. Additionally, hospitals are continually working toward magnet status, so they’re looking for RNs with a BSN to help them meet their goals.

Where Do Trauma Nurses Work?

Varies

Usually, trauma nurses work in the emergency room, but they can also work in the trauma unit, intensive care unit, or even in special divisions like the burn unit, cardiac unit, or surgery unit.

Interested in Becoming a Trauma Nurse?

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

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