It’s 2 p.m. on a Monday. You’ve worked in a hopping hospital in the emergency nursing department for more than a decade, but neither you nor your colleagues have yet to figure out why Mondays are so darn busy.

You started your shift just before 7 a.m., and you’ve been on the move ever since. One patient after another filled the beds in your four-bed zone. You drew blood for labs, started and removed IVs, and ran ECGs. You pushed fluids, stocked linens and supplies, and provided discharge instructions. You assessed (correctly) that the leg pain in the middle-aged man in bed 2 was not a DVT, but you determined (also correctly) that the shortness of breath in the woman in bed 4 signaled asthma requiring a breathing treatment. Sometime between teaching the fifth grader who had a playground accident how to use her crutches, responding to a stroke code, and tucking a urinal beside the intoxicated “frequent flier” who you’ve seen far too many times, you grabbed a coffee and a bag of chips from the waiting room vending machine.

Lunch was out of the question, and you haven’t had a bathroom break in hours. Now your eyes keep flipping to the curtain surrounding the next bed. Behind it lies a young man with a severe headache, neck stiffness, and low-grade fever. He’s waiting for transport for a lumbar puncture. You hope that if it is meningitis, it’s not bacterial. In the meantime, you’re bobbing and weaving like a prizefighter as you check the IV on a confused elderly gentleman who is suddenly determined to slap you.

Why would you do this job? Why would anyone?

As many emergency nurses say, it’s in their DNA.

A special breed

If you’ve been practicing as an RN in any number of nursing specialties but long for a faster pace, consider emergency nursing.

If you’re feeling stagnated by routine, or you believe you could (and should) do more to broaden your skills, or you just can’t deny that you’re an adrenaline junky, then emergency nursing might be a better fit for you.

A good match of personality and position is important in emergency nursing. Not every nurse would want to do the job of an emergency RN, but then not every nurse could. Temperament plays as much a role in the success of a nurse in an emergency setting as clinical knowledge and skill.

Emergency nurses are said to be a special breed. Although few studies have linked personality characteristics to clinical nursing specialties, the University of Sydney explored the traits common to emergency nurses in 2014. The researchers found that emergency RNs typically have extroverted personalities. They also tend to be more agreeable and open to experiences than the general population.

According to the study, emergency nurses find a good match for their innate friendliness, ease in engaging with strangers, and preference for a fast-paced lifestyle in the unpredictable, time-critical, and often-noisy environment of emergency settings.

They also draw upon strong internal coping mechanisms.

“…[emergency department] staff experience high levels of stress and emotional exhaustion, so it’s understandable that it takes a certain personality type to function in this working environment,” said the study’s lead author, veteran nurse Belinda Kennedy, in a University news report.

Ready for anything

What else is in the DNA of an emergency nurse? Here are a few more strands:

  • They adapt quickly and confidently to rapidly changing circumstances. At any moment, emergency nurses must be prepared to shift gears, from removing a penny from the nose of a frightened toddler to triaging victims of a multiple-vehicle accident to initiating thrombolytic therapy in an elderly patient with acute MI.
  • They know how to manage their time. Emergency RNs make assessments — and life-saving decisions — within seconds.
  • They thrive on intensity, find gratification in immediate results, and are not afraid of the new and the different (or even the strange on occasion).
  • They’re precise multitaskers who instinctively juggle a diverse range of patients and responsibilities. They’re also emphatic patient advocates.
  • They rank highly in common sense. They’re pragmatic and resourceful; with awesome street smarts.

Forget the stereotypes on emergency nursing

A certain “they’ve-seen-it-all” mystique revolves around emergency nurses, but misunderstanding does, too. Among their colleagues, emergency nurses are known as strong, even willful clinicians. But their toughness shouldn’t be misinterpreted as roughness.

Emergency nurses are cool-headed, but not cold. They care deeply about their patients. Second only to saving lives, many emergency RNs identify the time they spend teaching patients about their health as the most satisfying aspect of their jobs. They also tend to form long and lasting bonds with their colleagues.

Do Your Homework

If you think emergency nursing sounds tailor-made for you, you’re probably a type-A personality who’s wondering why you haven’t jumped in sooner, if not NOW.

But hold on. Be sure you’re making the decision to change specialties at the right time and for the right reasons.

Emergency nurses are specialists in generalities — they must maintain the wide scope of physiology and pathology knowledge required to treat a variety of health conditions across all patient populations. Whether you’re an experienced nurse or one just starting in your career, you’ll need to do some prep work to better your chances as a candidate for an emergency nurse position, including updating your Advanced Cardiac Life Support and Pediatric Advanced Life Support skills. The Emergency Nursing Association offers additional recommendations.

What It’s Really All About

It’s Monday at 7:45 pm. Your shift is over, but you’re in the break room savoring a sandwich, plus a really good cookie — an earlier gift from a grateful mom and the fifth grader who was getting the hang of her crutches. You’ve given report to the night shift nurse and rounded on your patients one last time.

Your thoughts linger on the code in your zone just two hours earlier. A boy this time. This one a second grader with a bullet lodged in his small chest, the unintended victim of crossfire in a gang dispute. His condition on arrival was grave. But you knew what to do. You knew how to do it. You automatically synchronized your efforts with a team that’s danced this extreme ballet many times before. You saw the determination in the eyes of the physician, nurses, and techs working alongside you. “We will not lose this child,” they seemed to silently agree.

And you didn’t. Not this time. Your palms stung a little from the high-five’s all around; and you sighed in gratitude, knowing your colleagues in ICU will go the distance for that little guy, too.

Why do this job? Soon you’ll be home, ruffling the hair of your own young son as he tells you about his day. And you’ll know another parent will still have the chance to do the same thing.

Eisenhower Medical Center, a leader in emergency care in the Coachella Valley, has openings for qualified RNs in our state-of-the-art Tennity Emergency Department, as well as urgent care centers located throughout the Palm Springs area. Learn more about our emergency facility here, and search and apply for emergency nursing positions here.

Originally posted on 22/11/2016

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