If you’ve ever watched a series like Grey’s Anatomy or ER, you know that hospital scenes are always dramatic on screen. And if they’re in the emergency department—well, they pretty much always are. In real life, though, that’s not quite the case. Sure, there are times where the ER can get hectic. So to get the real truth in honor of Emergency Nurses Week, we decided to go straight to the source.
Sarah Emami, RN, BSN, CEN, CCRN, a staff RN in the ED at Sibley Memorial Hospital admits that she was surprised when she began working as an emergency nurse. “I thought working in the ER would involve a lot more Code Blue situations and ACLS [advanced cardiac life support] protocols. There are a lot of these situations, but mostly you’re preventing people from reaching a critical situation,” says Emami.
Emami, who has worked in the ER for six years, decided to work there because she loves a fast-paced environment as well as having a lot of autonomy as a nurse. Before working in the ER, she worked in the ICU and doing that gave her a lot of critical care experience, albeit at a much slower rate.
Even though she’s worked in the ER for a while now, Emami admits that there are still surprises. “Most people don’t think about the food that they eat: they eat junk food, processed food, and fast food a majority of the time, and they are surprised when they are tired, lethargic, and have GI issues,” she explains. Another surprise is that “people want a fast fix for chronic medical conditions.”
The biggest challenges for Emami about working in the ER are what she calls “boarders.” These are patients who are admitted to the hospital, but have to stay in the ER because there are no available rooms or there’s not enough staffing at the time. Emami also says that managing patient expectations can be tough—like the aforementioned desire for a “quick fix,” and teaching them that the best way to stay healthy is a combination of a good diet, exercise, and stress management.
When she can get through to patients about how to stay healthy, that’s the best. “The biggest rewards are when I can teach a patient something new about their diet, medication, or how to navigate the health care system,” says Emami.