5 Must-Have Emergency Nursing Skills

Regardless of their specialty, all nurses need to have specific skills to excel at their job. Whether you work in the ER, the OR, or any other unit in the hospital, you will need either an associate’s degree in nursing or a bachelor’s of science of nursing. On top of that, you will need to pass the NCLEX-RN.

While the exam measures your abilities and skills in the nursing field, you aren’t 100% sure about your capabilities until you’re actually working on the job.

What’s more, while all nurses want to imagine that they would perform well in an emergency, it’s the ER nurses that really understand how important it is to keep calm and get to work.

Here are some of the must-have skills that these emergency room nurses need to succeed in their careers.

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#1 Quick Thinking and Problem Solving

As an emergency room nurse, you will have to make numerous quick decisions every single day.

When it’s an urgent situation, there isn’t time to sit down and go through the pros and cons of each viable option. ER nurses need to know their job duties and have a thorough knowledge of acute medical conditions and diseases, as well as how to treat them.

For instance, if a patient comes into the ER complaining about a severe headache, you need to be able to rule out any worst-case scenarios and quickly think through what might be wrong. 

Your quick thinking will also come in handy when going through a patient’s medical history, as well as when dealing with multiple individuals at the same time.

One of your primary responsibilities as a nurse in the emergency department will be to triage patients as they arrive.

You do this by assessing their symptoms and deciding which are more severe and which can wait a bit longer (source). It can be a stressful situation, which is why problem-solving skills come into play so much.

#2 Emotional Toughness

Speaking of stress, the job of an ER nurse can be emotionally taxing, so you need to be someone who can stay calm under pressure and keep their cool.

There will be times when circumstances are out of your control, and you can’t just break down in front of patients or your colleagues.

You need to put on a brave face, do what you can, and stay mentally strong throughout your shift.

Of course, this is easier said than done, but nurses who get a handle on this skill perform much better than their less emotionally-stable coworkers.

Emotional toughness doesn’t have to mean being a stone-faced nurse and never showing your feelings.

It just means staying cool, calm, and collected when everything else feels like it’s about to crumble. There are certain ways to respond when the ER waiting room is full, patients are waiting to be triaged, and you’ve got colleagues running all over the place.

Emotional toughness is what will keep you grounded and plowing forward to get the job done.

#3 Physical Endurance and Stamina

Besides the mental and emotional stability, you should have a relatively strong and flexible body.

Nurses rarely get time to sit down and take a break, and those 10-hour shifts (sometimes longer!) can take a toll on you, physically. Taking care of yourself will be of the utmost importance because you can’t care for others when you’re barely paying attention to your own needs.

Be sure to follow your own advice and take care of your body, and your mind for that matter. 

If you become an ER nurse, you will see that physical stamina is one of those things that you can’t take for granted.

You need to work at it and prepare yourself for those long shifts, minimal breaks, and constant moving around. Fortunately, this is something that you can work up to if your endurance isn’t as good as you want it to be. 

#4 People Skills and Empathy

As an ER nurse, you want to be able to separate your own emotions from the situation at hand, but you also want to balance that with empathy.

Having compassion for others isn’t a sign of showing weakness; in fact, it is a skill that not everyone has mastered.

Empathy helps you to see the situation from the other person’s point of view, and that enables you to deliver information thoroughly and accurately, as well as to try your best and give each patient the care that they deserve.

At the end of the day, it comes down to treating people as you would want to be treated, the good old Golden Rule they would like to be treated also known as the Platinum Rule (source).

In addition, people skills come in handy when working as a nurse. You need to be able to communicate effectively with patients, their families, and your medical team.

Sometimes, patients can tell nurses different information from what they tell the doctor.

By communicating effectively with the doctor, you can quickly and accurately relay information about the patient and you both can work towards finding the best possible treatment.

Your communication and people skills will also be useful when talking to individuals who are becoming impatient in the waiting room or in triage.

You don’t want to say or do anything that would make the situation any worse, and that’s where people skills come into play.

#5 Time Management

Finally, good time-management skills are especially useful for a nurse in the emergency department.

You need to be able to divvy up your time between checking in on patients, cleaning up rooms and restocking supplies, and documenting patient information for the next nurse who comes in.

All of these tasks can become a huge burden for someone who lacks time-management skills. It can help to remember to order your responsibilities in terms of priority.

Think about what is the most urgent and needs to be done as soon as possible and go do that.

Then, move on to the next most important thing, and so on. This tip can help you strengthen those time-management skills and perform better overall in your job.

Final Thoughts

If you’re new to the ER or your considering ER nursing and are looking for more information, check out some of our other articles on ER nursing. Here’s a couple of them to get you started.

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