When entering the field of nursing, you’re met with a wide variety of specialties and career paths to potentially pursue. While each subspecialty has its pros and cons, few roles are as fast-paced and offer the same level of excitement, variety, and fulfillment as that of an ER nurse.

Emergency room nurses are lifelines for critically injured and severely ill patients. ER nursing is a demanding, yet rewarding job in which you can find deep satisfaction knowing your actions are literally saving your patients’ lives.

If you’re interested in learning how to become an ER nurse, you’ll need to know these common ER nurse requirements so that you can get a successful start in the field.

How To Become an Emergency Room Nurse in 5 Steps 

In most cases, it’ll take between two and six years to become an ER nurse or ER travel nurse. Factors such as the length of your nursing program and the specific requirements of various ERs can affect the exact amount of time it will take. 

While some ERs accept nurses straight out of a two-year Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program, others prefer candidates to have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), as well as hands-on clinical experience. Additionally, many ERs are open to hiring new graduates, providing opportunities for those without previous hands-on clinical experience.

That said, the general steps to becoming an ER nurse include: 

Step 1: Graduate High School or Obtain a GED

The minimum requirement for admission into a nursing program is the successful completion of a high school degree or a GED equivalent. In addition to graduating, most nursing schools expect their students to have maintained at least a 2.5 GPA or higher, with some programs setting the bar at 3.0. 

That said, if you don’t have a high enough GPA to apply for a specific program, that shouldn’t discourage you from pursuing an ER nursing career. There are often ways around this issue if you’re willing to put in the work and take a few extra steps.

For example, you could retake some of the non-nursing courses you may have previously performed poorly in, or aim to excel in your prerequisite classes to raise your overall GPA. You could also bolster other aspects of your application, like volunteering to gain even more clinical experience. 

Step 2: Apply for a Program 

To enter into any field within nursing, an applicant must first attend nursing school. 

In school, you’ll learn the essential skills you need to succeed in your career as a nurse. Through classroom instruction, lab work, and clinical experience, you’ll develop a solid theoretical and practical foundation of nursing. Licensed registered nurses (RNs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) will oversee your every step as you develop your footing in the field. 

As mentioned, students will typically select one of two nursing degrees: 

  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) – An ADN is a comprehensive, two-year program designed to provide prospective emergency nurses with the essential knowledge and skills they’ll need to become technical nurses. Here, the primary focus is on developing a student’s clinical competencies so that they’re prepared to start their career on the right foot. 
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) – A BSN is a four-year program that goes beyond foundational knowledge and clinical skills. The curriculum tends to incorporate more content from related fields, such as leadership theory, community health, advanced practice, and health assessment. With a four-year nursing degree under your belt, you’ll have the skills you need to excel in junior nursing roles and advance quickly in your career. 

While many ERs will happily accept a candidate with an ADN, some programs may prefer a nurse that has a BSN since it’s more likely they’ll have broader educational and clinical experience. 

Finding a Nursing Program 

How can you find a nursing program that prepares you to become an ER nurse? As you’re researching your options and closing in on your top candidates, assess these factors closely before coming to your final decision: 

  • Clinical experience – The program should offer extensive hands-on clinical experience within an ER setting.  
  • Curriculum – While nursing programs typically offer a broad foundation in nursing practice, some may provide additional training or elective courses in specific areas relevant to emergency care provision. For instance, there are programs that offer courses focused on pediatric emergency care or advanced cardiac life support (ACLS).
  • Faculty – Teachers are to schools as ER nurses are to ERs: the very backbones that prop them up and keep them moving. It’s important to choose a school with a highly-reputed set of professors and nursing professionals. If your educators have a background in the emergency room, even better, as they’ll be able to give you firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to work in such an environment.
  • Reputation – Although it may depend on the region, specialty, and individual preference for an educational environment, a school’s reputation certainly can play a role in the hiring process. Graduating from a highly-regarded institution signals to employers that you’ve been thoroughly trained and educated. 

Step 3: Complete Nursing School

Once you’ve been accepted into a nursing program, the next step is actually attending class, completing your assignments, and learning the material. Generally, your first semester (or year) of school will comprise general education requirements—if you haven’t already completed them prior to enrolling. Typically, this will include classes such as: 

  • Algebra
  • Anatomy & Physiology
  • Biology
  • Chemistry 
  • English Composition 
  • Epidemiology
  • Human Development 
  • Microbiology
  • Nutrition
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Statistics

Once the prerequisites have been satisfied, you’ll move on to your nursing core classes, which may include subjects like: 

  • Advanced Anatomy and Physiology
  • Advanced Microbiology
  • Advanced Pathophysiology
  • Care Transitions
  • Clinical Study
  • Clinical Theory
  • Community/Population Nursing
  • Ethics in Healthcare
  • Gerontological/Adult Nursing
  • Health Informatics
  • Leadership and Management
  • Mental Health Nursing
  • Nursing Fundamentals
  • Pharmacology
  • Women’s and Infant Health

In addition to completing and passing the required classes, you may also need to complete a certain number of clinical hours within a care setting. This gives you the opportunity to gain practical experience in a real-world setting. 

Here, you’ll put the theory you learn in class to the test as you carry out the daily duties and responsibilities of a qualified nurse. Not only will this help hone your skills, but it’ll also give you a solid sense of what being a nurse is like day-to-day. 

Every nursing program mandates a certain number of clinical hours to be completed. Additionally, every state requires these clinical hours as part of the nursing education program. For example, in California, nurses are expected to have accumulated 800 hours of hands-on clinical experience before they can receive a medical license to practice as a nurse. 

Step 4: Pass Your Exams 

Historically, after completing their nursing program, graduates were required to take and pass the national licensing exam, known as the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination). The standards of this test were governed and set by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). This test was administered to assess whether or not students have the knowledge, skills, and problem-solving abilities needed to practice as entry-level nurses. 

As of April 2023, the NCLEX has been updated to better assess candidates’ clinical judgment while remaining a mandatory requirement for licensure. This includes new item types and real-life case studies. After passing the test, students are granted their Registered Nurse (RN) license, allowing them to practice as an RN in the state where they tested.

Step 5: Apply for the Job 

Once you’re registered and certified to be a nurse, you can begin to apply to jobs in the setting that you desire. Prepare your ER nurse resume and familiarize yourself with common ER nurse interview questions to help you put your best foot forward. 

What Are the Core Responsibilities of ER Nurses? 

ER nursing tends to be a high-pressure job centered around providing critical care to patients with acute injuries or illnesses in an emergency room setting. 

Because of this, each day will look and feel different. Your day-to-day tasks will vary dramatically depending on each specific patient’s illness or health condition. For example, the nursing workflow for treating a gunshot victim looks very different from that of a patient suffering cardiac arrest.  

However, common duties for all ER nurses include: 

  • Assessing and triaging patients – Emergency room nurses are responsible for performing initial health and priority assessments on patients as they arrive in the ER. Factors such as pain levels, medical conditions, and vital signs will help ER nurses assign a triaging priority. This allows medical teams to treat patients who need the most help first.  
  • Monitoring vital signs – Patients, especially those in critical condition, must have their vital signs monitored at all times. In the ER, nurses will pay attention to factors like heart rate, oxygen saturation, blood pressure, and breathing patterns as they monitor awaiting patients. 
  • Documenting patient care – Nurses maintain and regularly update patient documentation, including their medical history, treatment plan, and health progress.
  • Providing care – Nurses provide all manner of general care, including: 
    • Administering medications
    • Managing IV infusions
    • Wound care
    • Monitoring vital signs
    • Performing frequent assessments
    • Assisting with different procedures
  • Collaborating with other care professionals – ER nurses help support other specialists that operate within the ER setting, including critical care doctors and surgeons.    

Find Your Next Emergency Room Nurse Job with Host Healthcare 

Few careers are as demanding, and rewarding, as those within the ER—becoming an ER nurse is an opportunity to make a life-changing difference for patients in need of serious help. Plus, by learning what factors into the average ER nurse salary, you’ll find it to be a lucrative job, especially for nurses who want to travel. 

Want to know how to become an ER travel nurse? Look no further.

At Host Healthcare, we’re here to support your journey towards becoming a travel nurse. Whether you’re a seasoned RN or currently pursuing your nursing degree, we offer guidance and assistance to help you prepare for your future career in travel nursing.

With 24/7 support, we’ll assist you every step of the way as you gain the experience needed to embark on your travel nursing adventures. Above all, we strive to make the transition to travel nursing seamless and straightforward.

Sign up today to receive more information and explore the opportunities that await you in the future.



“ADN and BSN Nursing Pathways: What are the Differences?”  Nursing Licensure.Org. https://www.nursinglicensure.org/articles/adn-vs-bsn/

“CA RN Licensure Qualifications for Graduates of International Nursing Program.” State of California, Department of Consumer Affairs. https://www.rn.ca.gov/pdfs/education/edp-i-35.pdf“Next Generation NCLEX.” NCLEX.  https://www.nclex.com/next-generation-nclex.page