January 27, 2015

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There’s no such thing as an ordinary day at work when you’re an Emergency Room Nurse. About 30% of nurses in the U.S. are Emergency Nurses, who specialize in rapid assessment and treatment when every second is crucial to a patient’s survival, especially during the first stage of illness or injury. These nurses must multitask and remain calm, efficient, and empathetic - all while working incredibly long shifts with few breaks (50% of nurse shifts exceed 10 hours, and 43% of nurses grab something to eat while responding to call lights or other patient needs).

While no two days as an ER nurse are the same, they may follow a similar schedule. ER nurses begin their long days by packing a lunch and taking a few moments to mentally prepare for chaos heading their way. Before their shifts begin, on-coming staff is briefed on the status of the ER and assigned patients (42.8 ER visits are made per every 100 Americans).

As they begin their assignments, the ER nurses constantly monitor their patients and address the concerns of worried family members. While all types of conditions come through the doors of the ER, the top reasons that Americans visit the emergency room are abdominal pain, chest pain, and contusion with intact skin surface. Many life and death decisions fall into the hands of ER nurses, who must balance the workload of patients while staying focused. Recently, a study showed that hospitals with more registered nurses per admission had lower mortality rates.

While an ER nurse’s responsibilities range from inserting IVs and taking bloodwork to comforting loved ones, they also take on more typical tasks as well. For example, an ER nurse will stabilize patients experiencing trauma, minimize a patient’s pain, quickly uncover medical conditions, and teach patients about injury prevention.

Even when patients are discharged, the relief is only temporary, since another patient immediately fills their vacant room. Caring for patients can be emotionally draining and just as tiring as working long shifts; in fact, 85% of emergency nurses reported that they had experienced at least one symptom of “compassion fatigue” during the previous week.

Interestingly, more time is taken prepping for procedures than the actual time the procedures take. This efficiency is crucial to a successful procedure, and many nurses keep up with the latest practices and techniques by taking continuing education classes. In fact, 32 states require continuing education class for annual nurse license renewal to help them master the newest procedures.

Patients come to the ER at all times of the day, but patients who come in during regular workday hours have a shorter time to treatment than those who come during other times (56 minutes versus 72 minutes). Emergency nurses also treat patients of all ages and conditions, from newborns to elderly seniors. Infants younger than one year and adults aged 85 years and older have the highest rate of ER visits, but the older adults are far more likely to be admitted to the hospital (whereas typically only 13.3% of visits to the ER result in hospital admission).

While each day is different as an emergency room nurse, these men and women share many common characteristics: efficiency, levelheadedness, focus, empathy, and the ability to multitask. Though the days are long and exhausting on many levels, emergency nurses thrive on their ability to help patients in dire need- and that passion for helping others is what keeps them coming back to work every day.

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