What I Think It Takes To Be An ER Nurse
"Mary Louise Shines"?
Yeah, and I'm Catherine Zeta Jones.
This is no real nurse. I haven't seen her in a single recruitment ad in all the hours I've spent searching the internet.
Interestingly enough, she comes from New York, just like Beulah France, RN, our favorite nurse consultant when it comes to harsh toilet tissue.
So we can avert the nursing shortage and gain valuable staffing by just using Pepsodent?
"You'll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent!" I did not make that up. It's the old ad jingle. Never mind what year.
Now she is recruiting for...clear skin?
She would never have recruited me.
She looks like a Stepford Nurse.
She speaks in thought bubbles.
And her cap is really yukky.
Hey, I have priorities, ya know.
Ever wonder if you "have what it takes"?
I didn't think I did until one slow day in ICU I floated down to a tiny, three-bed ER and absolutely fell in love with a whole new world.
So here is my own, personal subjective take on what makes an ER nurse an ER nurse:
- A Strong Personality
- Timid, fragile....no place for that in the ER. Things will get tense and tempers will fly.
- Do you cry if someone says "Boo!" in the wrong way? If you are a "Sensitive Sam", you will have a hard time. I know. I was a "Sensitive Sam" for a few years, myself. Then I got older. Now I can say "Boo"! right back and then some.
- Alternatively, if you are the type to hold a grudge, the ER is not for you.
- That doesn't mean you have to be a loud, boisterous person. Two of the best nurses I ever worked with were extremely quiet. They didn't say much, but they were the epitome of efficiency and their patients were in superb hands.
- An Assertive Personality
- All nurses are patient advocates, but in the ER you do not often have the luxury of time.
- Occasionally you will find that decisions are being reached (as in admit vs. return home) that you, as the nurse, can influence.
- If you feel a decision is being reached that is not in your patient's best interest (weak while ambulating and lives alone, for example), you must speak up. Can you do that?
- In ER, probably the easiest doctors you will ever deal with will be the ER docs. There is a sense of teamwork and communication between the docs and nurses that is really unique to the ER.
- But you will be dealing with specialists from every department: surgeons, eye specialists, hospitalists, cardiologists, neuro docs, etc.
- They don't always know the policies of the ER.
- sometimes they will make it quite clear that they could not care less about the policies or business of the department.
- It will, occasionally, be up to you to assert that you cannot carry out a specific order because of said policies or ask them if an order can be done after admission to free up an ER bed. Are you willing to do that?
- If your idea of aerobic exercise is to click the remote twice in a row, you need not apply to the ER.
- You will move. There will be shifts when you never stop moving. You need to be willing to walk in that door with roller skates on and well oiled to boot.
- You have to be willing to put in the energy that the job requires. Can you do that?
- Energy is a willingness to work. Stamina is the ability to work.
- You will never know what you will be dealing with on any given shift
- You have to be able to go the distance - finish the shift giving 100%.
- Often without breaks, sometimes without dinner.
- Maybe even after your scheduled shift is over. Can you handle it physically? (You'll learn your limitations. For instance, I do not have the stamina for 12-hour shifts. So I work 8 instead.)
- The Ability to Prioritize
- You have four patients, two cardiacs, one going to the cath lab, one GI Bleeder (stated at triage) and a patient with an ingrown toenail. Who ya gonna call?
- Sorry, the Ghostbusters are busy - you make the decisions.
- What orders go first on which patients?
- You can always ask your co-workers for help, but you need to know what you want them to do! Can you make decisions on the fly?
- Can you handle more than one crises at a time? Are you willing to take the chance that you will have to? Does the idea exhilarate you or make you nauseated?
- The Ability to be Flexible
- When your co-workers get overloaded (see above), are you able to see beyond your assignment and help prioritize their care?
- When your rooms are empty, are you willing to discharge, start IVs, medicate your colleague's patients? Are you willing to ask them if they would like your help?
- Someone calls in sick. Are you willing to pitch in and help cover for them?
- Your co-worker is having a bad day....sorta bitchy. Are you willing to cut them some slack?
- The doc wants to add some tests to the patient, increasing your already heavy workload. Can you take it in stride?
- You must have a positive attitude.
- No one wants to be around a constant bitcher or fault-finder.
- That can drag down the morale in an ER faster than an unsuccessful code
- Can you put on a positive front even when you are not feeling it?
- Then, again, there is a time and a place for ventilating. The nurse's station or the patient's room is not it. Can you wait to complain until it's appropriate?
- Your patients already feel bad. They are sick, they are angry, they are tired, they are impatient. Can you smile and be upbeat when everyone around you is not?
- Can you see your patient as an individual and empathize, not just see them as the "abdominal pain in the back room"?
I do not believe that a nurse should begin her ER career as a new graduate. It is imperative that she/he gain the skills of prioritizing and assessment/evaluation on at least a monitored unit. The "feeling in your gut that something isn't right" comes from your experience outside the ER. You need to have enough experience to have developed that sixth sense.
You should be comfortable with drips and coding and defibrillating (basically, Critical Care) well before coming to the ER. The other stuff is just clinical and can be picked up quickly.
You have to be able to carry your own weight in the ER.
There are always exceptions, I have worked with nurses who are barely out of school who were made to work ER. But they are few and far between.
If you were meant for the ER you will love every minute. If you were not meant for it, you will know almost immediately.
I think it may be in our genes.......