Emergency nurses are a different breed

When patients experience medical emergencies, the actions and decisions of the medical professionals on the front line sometimes mean the difference between life of death.

It probably goes without saying that being an emergency nurse is not easy.  It is very different from all of the other types of nursing careers in that it’s multi-faceted and often undertaken in a frenetic environment. The emergency department, sometimes known as a critical care or trauma department, can be a highly stressful environment.

Emergency nurses provide rapid assessment and treatment to patients in the initial phase of illness or trauma and often in life-threatening situations. Working in this setting requires quick thinking, accurate assessment and team work.  Time management is crucial in this job. It also carries huge responsibility and expectation, and it means being faced with disturbing or distressing situations. It is not for the faint-hearted.

In any given shift, an emergency care nurse needs to be prepared to deal with a wide range of different medical situations that are caused by a wide range of factors including illness, injury, drugs, alcohol, crime, car accidents, poisoning, fights, heart attacks, strokes – this is just a sample of the people who present to emergency.

Some patients may be able to communicate well, others not.  An emergency nurse will treat people of all ages, socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds.

In addition to acute and attentive medical treatment, Emergency nurses act as translators, advisors, educators, assistants, organisers, and therapists, proverbially speaking. They need to be calm, in control, authoritative, reassuring, and friendly, remaining professional at all times – no matter what they are doing.  Emotional stability, compassion, empathy, communication, leadership, sympathy and attention to detail are traits common among emergency nurses.

There are moments when nurses themselves face danger. Patients affected by shock, drugs, alcohol, or those who have serious mental health conditions can all be unpredictable: aggressive, abusive and even violent. People who are highly stressed can also act this way – if they are concerned about themselves or a loved one.

There’s also always the possibility that a patient may be infected with hepatitis or HIV – and the emergency team won’t be aware of this straight away.

Preserving one’s own safety with proper procedures and protocols is all part of the job.

In this type of nursing career, being able to assess patients or triage them quickly and as accurately as possible, determining which patients are in greater need – some situations will need to take precedence over others, and it’s not always a straight-forward decision to make. But limited time and resources make this a necessity.

If a patient is in a critical condition then after a considered assessment, ‘stabilising’ the patient is the vital next step – this means working to ensure that the patient’s condition will not deteriorate or worsen as the team begins to make decisions about treatment.

Emergency nurses need to have a wide knowledge of procedures they can confidently perform including:

  • Basic first aid,
  • Advanced Life support skills,
  • inserting IV cannulas and starting IV therapy,
  • venepuncture,
  • administering medication,
  • blood transfusions,
  • assisting with Intubation and artificial ventilation
  • suturing,
  • setting broken bones,
  • delivering babies … just to name a few!

Emergency nurses should also be knowledgeable about diagnostic tests and procedures, such as electrocardiograms and x-rays.

Emergency nurses typically find work in hospital emergency departments, trauma centres, emergency response units and sometimes different branches of the military.

Not only does emergency nursing require specialised training, but recent studies have found that it best suits a particular type of personality too.

The organisation Australasian Emergency Care conducted a survey in 2014 which used a standardised personality test to measure personality characteristics. Data was collected from 72 emergency nurses and the scores were compared against the ‘norms’ found in the general population.

The study found that nurses drawn to emergency department work scored higher than the population ‘norms’ in that they were: highly extraverted, competent, open to experience, very agreeable, and liked excitement.

Does this sound like you? Then if so, just remember that when clocking-on, an emergency nurse is never certain what the shift will bring. An emergency nurse needs to arrive at work fresh, alert and in high-performance mode. Emergency nursing is fast-paced, and can at times, mean juggling a myriad of patient needs. It’s a role where you need to thrive in a sometimes-chaotic environment without losing your cool or getting distracted.

Even if you’ve watched all the episodes of ER and Grey’s Anatomy, and spent your childhood dreaming of administering IV drips, bandaging and splinting, it is highly recommended that anyone considering a nursing career in the field of emergency, needs spends some time gaining on-the-job experience in an emergency department – this is really the only way to experience first-hand what it’s actually like to be an emergency department nurse.

A nursing agency can help you to find work that could give you the opportunity to do a number of shifts.

Sometimes shifts can be long, frantic and draining, but most emergency nurses say the reward is enormous, because emergency nurses help to save lives.

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