Becoming a Trauma Nurse
Trauma Nursing, also called Emergency Nursing, is a critical specialization within the nursing field. Trauma nurses undergo specialized training and education to develop the skills necessary to assess, intervene, and stabilize patients in life-threatening situations and conditions.
These valuable skill sets are applicable in many different urgent and critical care settings. It is an increasingly popular specialization as the work is challenging, dynamic, rewarding, and has good growth potential professionally. However, it requires an exceedingly demanding role with significant responsibilities and requirements.
Becoming a trauma nurse requires additional education and certification. Most trauma nurses are registered nurses or nurse practitioners that have experience working in emergency or critical care practice and have further continuing education credits. The Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN) recommends 2 years of experience in the emergency department; however, the 2 years is not a requirement.
Registered nurses, who wish to specialize in trauma nursing, must receive at least the Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) designation. This certification is awarded by the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing and requires passing a 3-hour long computerized exam on emergency nursing.
Nurse practitioners, on the other hand, receive their designation through postgraduate studies and added clinical hours within the specialization. Trauma nurses interested in further specializing can achieve certifications within specific sub-specialties including pediatric emergency nursing, critical care nursing, and flight nursing.
Trauma nurses can also pursue additional professional qualifications in areas including Advanced Cardiac Life Support, Advanced Trauma Life Support, and more. All of these certifications and qualifications must regularly be renewed through retesting or completing continuing education courses or programs.
Trauma Nursing is a very rigorous field with significant medical, physical, and psychological demands. Emergency nurses must have a broad range of skills as they care for patients with all types of life-threatening conditions.
They do everything from triage assessment, which is prioritization of patient care depending on the urgency or immediacy of the condition; resuscitation of critical patients; and stabilizing patients with the administration of medication or other treatment modalities.
Working in trauma requires strong, flexible, and adaptable personality skills to cope with high-pressure medical situations. They must work well under extreme pressure remaining calm and observant even in chaotic crisis situations while also being prompt in thinking and reacting quickly.
Effective communication is critical for trauma nurses. They must work together efficiently with doctors and other members of the healthcare team while interacting compassionately and therapeutically with distraught families.
Trauma nurses must also have the ability to cope well with stress and have the stamina to withstand the fast-paced nature and grueling long hours of the work in addition to the extreme severity of problems encountered, which can physically and mentally drain the care providers.
Trauma nurses are exposed to a wide variety of work settings. Emergency rooms and critical care units are the most common areas for trauma nurses.
In emergency rooms and urgent care centers, trauma nurses are responsible for assessing, referring, and stabilizing patients before diagnosis.
Trauma nurses in critical care units see a slightly different work flow as they address sudden crises faced by the most critically ill patients after diagnosis.
Emergency nurses may also choose to work in mobile transport care, military or government organizations, or other facilities that require emergency medical services. Trauma nurses may also pursue alternative careers other than actual medical care, such as becoming administrators, educators, and researchers.
Roles and Responsibilities
During trauma situations, emergency nurses are the first line of defense. Trauma nurses deal with patients with critical, and mostly potentially fatal conditions that don’t yet have specific clinical diagnoses.
They must conduct a quick, systematic, extensive, and accurate assessment of the patient’s condition to implement interventions for the patient’s particular problem(s) thereby preventing injury, complications, and death. This evaluation includes, but is not limited to:
- Physical exams
- Recognizing and identifying the signs and symptoms of a life-threatening problem
- Having a sound clinical judgment in applying the proper treatment plan or monitoring system necessary to stabilize their condition
This process requires quick thinking and problem solving to determine the best course of action for the patient. After the patient is stable, trauma nurses will facilitate further procedures or medical interventions and aid the primary care provider in diagnosing the patient or rendering further treatment.
Trauma nurses must then effectively communicate all pertinent information to the rest of the healthcare team and the patient’s family members or significant others.
Learn more about the important roles trauma nurses play during different types of emergency medical situations:
- A Day in the Life This detailed firsthand account from a trauma nurse explains what it’s like during a usual shift in the emergency room and the physical and psychological demands involved.
- Trauma Nursing in Combat Zones An active duty trauma nurse explains what it’s like working in a combat zone.
- Choosing Emergency Nursing The Emergency Nurses Association carefully explains the role of emergency nurses, personal characteristics of successful emergency nurses and career prospects within the field.
- Evolution of Emergency Nursing Specialty This timeline lays out historical developments and current tenets of this field of specialization.
- Importance of Nurses in Trauma Systems (PDF) The Society of Trauma Nurses explains the vital role of trauma nurses within trauma systems through this position statement.
- Prevention and Discovery of Medical Errors in Critical Care This journal article discusses the very important role of critical care registered nurses in the discovery, prevention, disclosure and correction of medical errors.
- Acute Care Nurse Practitioners: Impact in Emergency, Trauma, and Critical Care (PDF) This academic paper details the beneficial impact of acute care nurse practitioners within emergency, trauma and critical care practices.
Written by Sarah Gehrke, MSN, RN and last updated Apr 19, 2017