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The key to finding work as an ER nurse is to be proactive before and during nursing school. Keep reading for pro tips on how to position yourself during school and after graduation.

Job Prospects

The availability of ER nursing jobs—especially for new graduates—depends on the needs and financial status of the institutions and geographic area in question. As reimbursement becomes more and more dependent on patient reviews, hospitals strive to update the accommodations and technological capabilities to satisfy their patient populations. The expense of these updates can limit the hospital’s ability to hire or even cause a hiring freeze.

Most managers would prefer to hire a nurse experienced in the ER because it is very time-consuming and expensive to train a new nurse. Furthermore, it delays the increase in staff numbers that the nurse is hired to relieve.  Many hospitals have created fellowship programs, which include a stepwise process of training for new grads to fully integrate them into the world of ER nursing. These are valuable programs for nurses who seek a comprehensive understanding of emergency nursing and an ongoing support system.  

They are, however, pricey to the hospital, and lengthy: nurse fellows receive full salary and benefits, and these programs last between six months and two years. For new nurses, these fellowship programs can be very competitive.

Building Bridges

As with any professional field, building bridges is a key to success. For ER nursing hopefuls, forming relationships within the ER can be a very strong indicator for acceptance into the fellowship program. This can be done by finding work at the ER as ancillary staff or volunteering.  

Working as a nursing assistant before and during nursing school is a great way to expose an individual to the life of a nurse, and either reinforce or redirect their goals. If a position working directly in the ER isn’t available, then employment in other parts of the hospital can still build those relationships and improve your chances of getting a job in the ER.

Although acute care is a part of every nursing school curriculum, emergency room nursing is not.  Nursing students interested in the emergency room can find out if their school has a relationship with a site that might allow them to shadow in the ER. They can also request through their nursing school administration to do requisite clinical work there.  

A capstone in the ER is a highly effective way to set oneself up for employment there. It introduces the nursing student to nurses and management, which gives the student an opportunity to demonstrate work ethic and nursing acumen.

Skill Building

If opportunities for work, volunteering, or clinical shadowing are not available, developing relevant skills for the ER is another way to make oneself more marketable for work there. Many emergency medical technicians (EMT) go on to become nurses and already have highly sought-after skills when they graduate.  Similarly, medical assistants, phlebotomists, radiology technicians, and scrub technologists all have skills and experience that are valuable to the ER.

Because nursing schools follow a general curriculum, there is no formal way to get into the ER as a nurse. The individual who hopes to be an ER nurse must take it upon themselves to be proactive in learning about the ER, building relevant relationships, and developing the skills necessary to be successful.  Being proactive during training is a skill-building opportunity in itself, as the best ER nurses are highly motivated, humble enough to remain teachable, and bold enough to advocate for a seemingly unlimited range of patient populations.

Nancy Swezey, BSN, RN, CNOR

Nancy Swezey received her BSN from Columbia University. She now practices in New York City in the operating room where she has worked as a staff nurse, and currently as a care coordinator specializing in head and neck surgery. Nancy is also pursuing her advanced practice degree at CUNY Hunter where she assists the faculty as a research assistant, focusing on nurse education and module development.

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