If you can maintain calm under pressure, think fast on your feet and turn on a dime, then emergency nursing might be the career for you.
While dealing with life-threatening situations on a daily basis is inherently intense and high-pressure, emergency nursing is an incredibly rewarding career, says Jeff Solheim, a veteran emergency nurse currently based in West Linn, Oregon.
"Every day you walk home with the knowledge that you saved somebody’s life," he says.
Solheim, who is also the author of “Emergency Nursing: The Profession, the Pathway, the Practice,” offered a few tips for deciding whether emergency nursing is right for you — and for navigating this physically and emotionally challenging profession.
Decide if you have what it takes
The number one thing that draws people to emergency nursing is the quick pace, says Solheim.
“It’s people who really enjoy that adrenaline rush, that quick pace,” he says. “And the other thing, I think when you ask emergency nurses what draws them to this field, it’s the ability to work with people for a very short period of time. One minute you can be caring for a child with a sore throat, and five minutes later you’re in a room caring for someone with an amputation, and one hour after that you’re performing CPR to a grandma from a nursing home.”
Be aware of the challenges
When Solheim started out, he was aware of the chaotic nature of emergency situations. What he wasn’t prepared for was the lack of respect from patients.
“When you get there, you realize that not everybody is as responsive to your caring as you would like,” he says. “Violence is huge in emergency nursing, and that can be verbal violence, physical or emotional violence.”
Solheim says he found the lack of gratitude "a little bit jarring.”
“You truly do get to see every level of society,” he says. “You see the worst of what substance abuse really does to people, you see domestic violence and human trafficking. Every shift you work you see the worst of society, along with the best.”
Make self-care a priority
Frequent exposure to injury and death, workplace violence and grueling hours can take a toll on even the most tenacious nurses. Those in medical professions are notorious for not taking care of themselves, but that’s not a good thing.
“Emotionally, you give every day to people who are hurting. An important component is finding your own emotional health. If you don’t find an outlet, you ultimately will burn out,” says Solheim, noting that things as simple as finding time to eat and exercise are key components of self-care.
Consider specialty certifications
To become a registered nurse, individuals must have at minimum a diploma in nursing. However, nursing has become a lot more technical in the last few years, and now some schools require a four year bachelor’s degree, explains the expert.
Although an additional Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) credential is not required to be an emergency nusre, it's a “demonstration to the public that you have knowledge above and beyond those areas,” says Solheim.
Other credentials, such as a certified Flight Registered Nurse (CFRN), can open up new doors. Throughout his career, Solheim has worked as a hospital administrator, on a cruise ship and written legislation related to healthcare policy. Today, he's somewhat of a nursing entrepreneur, writing books and leading test prep about nursing.
He emphasized that emergency nursing is not just one thing.
Says Solheim, "You meet people at their most vulnerable moments. They are 100 percent relying on you."
The average salary nationally for an emergency room nurse is $67,249, while the NYC average is approximately $73,254, according to job and recruiting website Glassdoor.