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Triage Nurse Career

How to Become a Triage Nurse

Emergency rooms are typically full of patients in need of immediate medical attention. Kids with broken arms, car crash victims, those who have had heart attacks—dangerous health issues are almost always brought to the emergency room. The emergency room is usually flooded with patients who need medical attention and need it as fast as possible. The ER is fast-paced, loud, and a little chaotic. These high-pressure situations are exactly where triage nurses thrive.

If you’re currently an RN or are studying nursing, it’s valuable to understand more about what triage nurses do and how you can become one.

What Is a Triage Nurse?

Nurses who work in triage work in emergency rooms and other emergency clinical facilities to help establish what kind of care patients need, ensuring they get sent to the right locations as fast as possible. Nursing in a triage setting requires being calm, cool, and authoritative as you direct traffic and help with immediate and dire medical situations, while getting doctors and other nurses up-to-speed on what is needed for specific patients.

What Does a Triage Nurse Do?

Triage nursing involves many job responsibilities that make the role diverse and important. Some of the responsibilities of triage medical professionals include:

  • Performing assessments on incoming patients to evaluate their symptoms so they can triage them appropriately
  • Working with patients and families who are in the waiting room
  • Giving emergency treatment whenever necessary
  • Communicating to patients and families the course of action
  • Sorting patients into priority groups according to hospital triage guidelines
  • Transporting patients to their treatment area
  • Working with doctors and other registered nurses to communicate the status of patients and treat as needed

Triage nurses must be able to keep a cool head under pressure, be decisive, and be quick on their feet. Triage nurses are expected to evaluate patient symptoms quickly and be able to get them moving to the right doctor and area as fast as they can. This means they need to know what they are looking for and be prepared to make a decision.

How Do I Become a Triage Nurse?

In order to be qualified to be a triage nurse, you must be a registered nurse with current licensure. There are some programs that can help you prepare to become an RN, but there are also programs that help you prepare to get your RN as well as a bachelor’s degree at the same time. 

For nurses who are currently RNs, a BSN degree can help them be a more attractive candidate for triage positions. Higher education is extremely appealing to hospitals hiring nurses—more hospitals than ever are working to increase the percentage of their nurses who have degrees in order to meet magnet requirements. So getting a bachelor’s degree is a great way to ensure you have the credentials and qualifications hospitals are looking for. Similarly, a degree can help triage nurses get a higher salary.

What Degrees are Best for a Triage 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 (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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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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What are the Technology Trends in Triage Nursing?

Technology is dramatically changing nursing and healthcare. Some advances in tech that are changing triage nursing include:

  • Automated machines for vitals. Healthcare technology is creating new machines that can help check a patient’s weight, blood pressure, oxygen levels, and more.
  • Emergency service index. New technology works with triage nurses to help assess patients and determine how urgently they are in need of care.
  • Electronic health records. Patients are able to have multiple doctors and nurses take a look at their records with the help of digital record keeping. This makes triage and working with different doctors in the ER very convenient.
  • Patient flow software. This digital software helps track patient beds in the emergency room, making sure that the process goes smoothly. This cuts down on the time triage nurses spend checking on patients.
  • Virtual check-in. This kind of software system allows patients to fill out information before they arrive at the hospital, allowing triage nurses to prepare for a patient’s arrival.

How Much Does a Triage Nurse Make?

$66,000

Triage nurses can expect to earn an average annual salary of $66,441, with some making $100,000 or more. The location where triage nurses work has a great impact on their pay—larger hospitals and emergency rooms are likely to pay triage nurses much more than smaller hospitals, as they will be much busier. Similarly, the education level of a triage nurse is a direct indicator of their salary level. And their experience level as an RN and in triage can impact their salary level as well—the more nursing experience an RN has, the higher their salary is likely to be. Pay for nurses tends to go up the more specific the training in, and emergency nursing and triage are no different.

What Is the Projected Job Growth?

9%

The job outlook for nurses is favorable. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of available nursing jobs is expected to grow by 9% from 2020 to 2030 resulting in 276,800 more jobs in the industry. Triage nurses will always be in high demand as they must have a specialized skill set. Expect the market for triage nurses to continue to grow consistent with the market for registered nurses. Triage nursing can be an exhilarating and rewarding career. While it's not for the faint of heart, triage nursing provides a wide range of situations to handle which can keep things fresh. One thing's certain in triage nursing—there's never a dull moment.

 

Where Do Triage Nurses Work?

ER

Typically triage nurses will work in an emergency room. ER triage nurses may work at the front-end, working with patients as they come into the office, or in the back at the desk where ER doctors and nurses communicate.

Some clinical facilities are now hiring phone triage nurses—these phone triage nurses help patients over the phone and help assess what care they will need before they arrive. Phone triage staff nurses help refer patients to the right emergency room or clinic, and ensure that doctors are ready for them when they arrive. 

Wherever a triage nurse works, they need to be ready for a fast-moving environment. Triage is all about helping organize emergency medical situations, so whatever setting you’re in, plan to be moving fast and helping solve major problems.

 

Interested in Becoming a Triage Nurse?

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

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