From minor injuries to major traumas, from birth to death—emergency nursing is for those who enjoy every day being different and who are risk-takers, according to Nancy Bonalumi, RN, MS, CEN, the 35th president of the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA).
Bonalumi is the director of emergency nursing at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and has been certified in emergency nursing for more than 20 years. In this Q&A, she explains what an emergency nursing career entails, as well as provides tips on pursuing this specialty as a new nurse.
What do you enjoy most about emergency nursing?
I enjoy the diversity of patients I see as an emergency nurse. Emergency nurses treat patients from birth to death and everything in between, and from minor illnesses to major traumas. We need to be skilled in assessment, as we often do not know what is wrong with a patient when they arrive in the emergency department (ED).
What can a new nurse in the emergency nursing specialty expect in the first few months on the job?
A new nurse in the ED can expect every day to be different. The variety of patients means you will see diverse diseases or injuries daily. However, the skills to assess and provide intervention will begin to come into focus. You build upon each experience to prepare you for your next patient.
What is the most challenging thing about being a new emergency department nurse?
The variety of patients can be overwhelming at times. You will care for a broad cross section of illnesses, not focusing on only one body system such as orthopedics or respiratory ailments. Also, the pace can change very quickly, requiring a new nurse to be very agile and responsive to an ever-changing environment. That skill also comes from experience. It can feel very chaotic when you are just starting out as a new ED nurse!
What advice can you offer a new graduate looking for a job in the emergency nursing specialty?
Know who you are. If you are someone who likes an orderly predictable work environment, there are places in the hospital setting that are much better suited for you than the emergency department. If you can work in a mild to full state of chaos, are a risk taker and prefer a broad base of knowledge, then the ED may be the perfect place for you. It helps to have an understanding of the emergency care environment. Working as an emergency medical technician (EMT) or an emergency technician while in nursing school may give you an advantage with a potential employer when you are looking for your first job.
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