Black ER nurse smiling with arm crossed in ER room.

Like many medical careers, emergency nursing is much different than how it's portrayed on television. With the fast-paced environment of the emergency department, it is easy to get wrapped up in the chaos. These tips can help you become an effective emergency department nurse, while ensuring that you are taking care of your patients and protecting your nursing license.

1. Forget Being Task-Oriented

In any given shift, nurses will have a series of tasks to complete. There are several assessments to finish, medications to administer, and documentation to write. Despite there being many functions to fulfill, emergency nursing is far from a task-oriented field. Emergency patients run into a range of issues—from injured fingers to fatal trauma. With limited data on the patient's condition that may be declining rapidly, nurses must continuously assess and adjust the care plan to meet patients' frequently changing needs. Planning your shift isn't only about checking all the boxes on your task list—it is also about ensuring that your patients receive safe and appropriate care no matter the circumstances.

RELATED: What Type of Nurses Do Emergency Rooms Typically Hire?

2. Learn How to Prioritize

One of the skills that emergency nurses become highly proficient in is prioritization. Even if patients are critically ill and the waiting room is full, managing priorities is essential. Particularly for a new nurse, knowing how and when to prioritize may seem like an overwhelming task. However, it becomes easier with time. Learning more about the clinical signs of deterioration and honing clinical judgment skills (sometimes referred to as ‘nursing intuition') can make it easier to determine which tasks to complete first. Many times, hospitals will have protocols in place for critical conditions such as a potential heart attack or stroke.

3. Use Your Expertise

Nurses are experts in the science of nursing, which allows them to sense when something isn't right with their patients and drives them to intervene. It's important for nurses to give this clinical judgment the attention it deserves and act on their instincts. Advocating for patients, even when it is uncomfortable, is a crucial aspect of being a nurse. It's also the reason why the public trusts nurses so much year after year. Addressing concerns and making decisions based on clinical judgments can be the difference between life and death for patients.

4. Ask Questions

Get comfortable asking questions. No two days in the emergency room are alike, and nurses will encounter patients with a variety of acute and chronic conditions on a regular basis. Especially in the beginning, there will be many symptoms, laboratory results, illnesses, and concerns that nurses may not have seen before. Therefore, asking questions is imperative.

Take advantage of the opportunity to work closely with physicians, experienced nurses, pharmacists, and other interdisciplinary staff, and keep learning from those around you. Being an effective emergency room nurse means always acting in the best interest of your patient. In times of uncertainty, it is best to consult other resources before making a decision. Emergency room nurses often face new procedures and medications. Before administering any medication or treatment, it is critical that nurses understand its purpose, potential side effects, and desired result.

5. Remember Where You Are

With constant alarms, alerts, and machines sounding off, it's common to get caught up in the chaos of the emergency department. Patients are coming in and out at a rapid pace, and orders are piling up. In the midst of this, emergency nurses are there to administer treatments for patients and provide care and comfort.

Meanwhile, patients and their families are in the emergency room with the worst symptoms and emotions of their lives. Their emergency room visit could be the first time experiencing a critical illness, or perhaps it is the end of a loved one's long battle with a chronic disease. Regardless of the situation, nurses are there to provide support when patients and families need it most. Even when things are busy, nurses must be mindful of the problems that their patients are facing. A simple moment of kindness for a patient or their loved one can make all the difference. Taking a few minutes to explain the upcoming procedure or holding a patient's hand during an uncomfortable test can change their experience entirely. Patients may be uncooperative due to a bad previous experience or fear. Nurses can mitigate these concerns by remaining attentive, authentic, and kind.

Art, Science, and Caring

Being an effective nurse in any specialty is a combination of art and science. In each shift, emergency nurses make an impact by utilizing their strong expertise, solid clinical judgment, and the art of caring. By keeping in mind that nursing addresses the patient's physical and emotional condition, nurses can make effective care plans without sacrificing human connection and empathy.

Jessica Dzubak, RN, MSN
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