Most hospitals, if not all, have an Emergency Department. This department is often staffed by trauma nurses who are professionals skilled enough to care for people who have suffered life-threatening or critical injuries.
Some of the most common injuries that a trauma nurse would face on an almost daily basis include car accidents, electrocutions, sharp or blunt trauma such as stabbings or falls, workplace accidents, burns, and so many other types. Trauma nurses also make up part of the first responders team who work on victims suffering from self-inflicted injuries or violent crimes.
What Does a Trauma Nurse Do?
On a typical day, a trauma nurse would be assigned to the ED and are expected to be the first people to receive any patients who come through by emergency transport. These professionals work hand in hand with other critical medical staff members, including emergency services first responders, trauma surgeons, ED physicians, and many other personnel who all make up part of the emergency department. Everyone’s goal is to try and stabilize the patient enough to give the doctors enough time to work on them and give them the best possible chance of survival.
While trauma nurses make up a part of what is a much larger team of professionals in any hospital, it can be said that when it comes to critical or life-threatening injuries, the need for trauma nurses cannot be overstated.
According to the CDC, injuries happen to be the leading cause of death for people below the age of 44 years across the globe. Not only can these injuries result in lifelong physical and mental problems, but they can also lead to death. In fact, they lead to death more often than you would think.
According to the Society of Trauma Nurses, the situation is so dire that a person dies from sustained injuries at least every three minutes. That translates to an unimaginable 20 people every hour and 480 people every single day.
The sad fact is that these numbers are only getting worse as people get older and our society becomes more populated by the elderly. It’s one of the main reasons why trauma nurses are in such high demand.
So what does a trauma nurse really do?
Act Quickly to Save Lives
As a trauma nurse, you would be expected to act really quickly and often think on your feet whenever a person suffering from a potentially life-threatening injury comes into the Emergency Department.
It’s your duty to remain calm and function properly under what will be immense pressure and possible catastrophic injuries. You would have to manage multiple tests, all of which would seem like they need to prioritize the rest. You will also need to find a way to both provide and take instructions from a wide range of sources, such as the team of first responders and your trauma surgeon or doctor.
Be Technically Adept to Providing Life Support
As a trauma nurse, your first aid skills will be taken to a whole new level. Even though you will have adequate training before you get licensed, you will often be called upon to be innovative enough to try and give your patients the best possible chance for survival.
Part of your day-to-day duties will probably include providing critical life support such as giving CPR, monitoring the patient’s vitals, and ensuring that they receive any emergency resuscitation if need be. You will also be called upon to administer IVs, medication, blood transfusions, and other fluids necessary to keep the patient comfortable and alive.
Stabilize the Patient
Like hospitals, trauma centers have their own designations depending on how well equipped they are to deal with severe injuries. This designation ranges from Level I all the way to Level V trauma centers, with I being a trauma center that deals with the least severe injuries and V being the one that deals with the most severe and life-threatening injuries.
Nurses in any one of these trauma centers need to be able to work together to ensure that the patient gets the best possible care no matter the trauma centers designation vis-a-vis the patient’s injury.
If a patient with a highly critical or life-threatening injury walks into a Level I trauma center that isn’t equipped to deal with that kind of injury, it’s the trauma nurses at that center who are tasked with stabilizing the patient enough for transportation to a trauma center that has a higher designation.
It’s also their job to ensure that the trauma nurses on the receiving center know exactly what to expect and what has already been administered to the patient in question.
Give Clear Information to the Patient and the Family
In many cases, when an emergency occurs and people get injured, there will be many panic and pandemonium. In these incidences, the patients and family members will be confused and will also be lost and scared.
It’s the duty of the trauma nurse, as the first point of contact in the center, to not only keep them calm but to provide them with as much information about their injuries or loved ones as possible.
While these might be the day-to-day duties of a trauma nurse, the Society of Trauma Nurses emphasizes that trauma nurses are really meant to help promote public health. These nurses are tasked with providing the public with the right kind of information as far as injury prevention is concerned.
These trauma practitioners reach out to groups that tend to be most prone to injuries, such as the elderly, children and teen drivers, and those who have dangerous jobs. They discuss the best safety practices in relation to the group in particular and come up with public safety policy guidelines designed to help minimize the chances of injuries occurring and improve health outcomes.
What is the Trauma Nurse Salary Range?
According to ZipRecruiter, trauma nurses earn an average salary of around $91,025 per annum, which translates to around $44 per hour. Of course, this figure is hugely variable, with more experienced nurses and the top 10th percentile making well over $155,000 per annum.
The kind of salary you stand to earn as a trauma nurse depends on a few factors. These include:
- Your education level
- Your employer
- Where you work in terms of state
- The different types of certifications you have attained
Pay differentials might also boost your salary. For instance, many trauma nurses get bonuses for mentoring new nurses, taking on evening or even night shifts, and charging duties.
Trauma nurses who hold a BSN or an MSN would invariably get paid higher, just as you will find that most hospitals are willing to pay more for trauma nurses who are more specialized in a certain patient population area.
Finally, depending on your employer, you could get a sign-on bonus which is designed to lure in the best talents in the business. It’s also quite typical for trauma nurses to earn more when they work overtime.
However, as a budding trauma nurse, there is more you need to consider when looking for employment than just how much the employer pays and whether or not you will get a sign-on bonus. Few things are critically important for the progression of any career.
These things include:
- Whether or not the employer offers valid opportunities for continued education in the field. These will include things like tuition support and in-house training or certification sessions.
- You should also look at factors such as the kind of health insurance the employer offers employees of your caliber.
- What about the number of paid days off? Working as a trauma nurse can be extremely stressful, and with taking some time off to decompress, away from your normal work settings, you are not only likely going to suffer from fatigue, but you might quickly get disenchanted by profession altogether.
- The kind of setting under which you will work also matters a lot. For nurses who are more adventurers, joining an organization like Doctors without Borders might be the best-case scenario.
All in all, you will find that your salary is probably going to be higher if you work in an urban area as opposed to a rural one. Unfortunately, the cost of living will also be just as high. If you are already a licensed trauma nurse looking to relocate for any reason at all, be sure to carry out thorough research on your preferred destination.
Run a full background check on the location, your potential employer, the kind of people you will be working with, as well as the overall cost of living in that particular area. Just simply looking at the higher salary doesn’t necessarily mean that you will end up having more in the bank if the cost of living in that area is much higher than the pay increase.
That being said, here are some of the best paying states as per the US Bureau of Labor Statistics:
- California, with an average annual salary of $106,950
- Hawaii with an average annual salary of $98,080
- Alaska with an average annual salary of $92,350
- Massachusetts with an average annual salary of $92,140
- Oregon with an average annual salary of $91,080
If you are a nurse looking to earn a bit more in terms of annual salary and advance your qualification or role as a trauma nurse, becoming an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP) is one of the most viable roots to take. As an ACNP, you will be required to have a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) and a certification in the specific focus area of specialization.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Acute Care Nurse Practitioners tend to make a bit more ($115,000 per annum) than most other trauma nurses. As an ACNP, you will typically be working in the ED, critical care units, burn centers, and pretty much in any institution equipped to receive trauma patients.
What’s the Career Outlook for Trauma Nurses?
The first thing that should come to mind anytime you look at any profession’s career outlook within the medical industry is the simple fact that the entire globe is experiencing a shortage of medical workers. There are simply not enough doctors, nurses, and emergency first responders. This isn’t a problem that is localized in third-world countries or emerging economies either.
Research carried out back in 2012 by the University of Nebraska found that at least 12 states have an acute shortage of nurses in the US These states include:
- New Mexico
This means that getting a nursing job in these states, and pretty much any other state, isn’t as difficult a task a getting most other form of employment. As long as you have the qualifications and are willing to keep learning to better your craft, the career outlook for trauma nurses is very positive.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that this industry will grow by around 12% through 2028. That growth rate is much faster than that of almost every other occupational group. This is mostly because we live in an aging society that needs more medical care as time passes.
Unfortunately, trauma injuries are expected to increase as people get more inventive with their thrill chasing antiques. There is going to be an acute increase in the population of those who are older than 60 years. All this suggests that the demand for trauma nurses is poised to get even higher, and with it, the pay.
How to Become a Trauma Nurse
If you are interested in becoming a trauma nurse, you should know that there are five main steps you need to take to achieve that dream:
- Earn your RN: The first step to becoming a trauma nurse involves earning an RN degree from a recognized and accredited associate’s degree program. You could also go for a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) from an accredited institution.
- Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam: To get licensed, every RN must pass the NCLEX-RN Exam.
- Specialize in Trauma Nursing: The next step is getting the experience. To become a certified trauma nurse, you need to have at least 1,000 hours or a minimum of 2 years’ experience as part of the nursing staff in an emergency department.
- Get Your Emergency Nursing Certification: You would then need to be certified by the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing and obtain certification in Advanced Life Support and Basic Life Support.
- Get Your Trauma Nursing Certification: After all this, you still have to take a trauma nursing course, graduate from that course and pass the Trauma Certified Registered Nurse Exam.
What it Takes to Become a Trauma Nurse
As you have seen above, it takes a whole of schooling to become a trauma nurse, with good reason. As a trauma nurse, you will be responsible for people’s lives and their quality after living in your ED.
How well equipped you are to deal with or manage the direst of situations or the most gruesome of accidents makes a huge difference in whether or not the patient survives. As such, you will constantly be learning even on the job. But before you get to that part, you will need the basic training and education that comes with the territory.
Be Ready to Spend at least 2 – 4 Years on Training and Education
First things first, you will have to take and complete an accredited, entry-level nursing course on your way to becoming an RN (Registered Nurse). This is the basic degree you will need if you are to become a trauma nurse in the future. At this point, you have several options as far as the educational programs you take are concerned. These include:
- Taking an associate degree course in nursing (ADN), which should take you about two years
- Taking a hospital-based nursing diploma program. This kind of program is often preferred by many nurses who would rather take a more hands-on approach to their learning experience. With this option, you are more likely to start working as a nurse much faster as you get to be in real-life hospital settings while taking your classes.
This kind of program is certainly advantageous because you get to start your “nursing student life” in the deep end, as it were, which means that you will have more experience under your belt by the time you graduate compared to other students.
The only issue with this kind of training is that you are typically required to remain with the training hospital for an agreed amount of time after graduation, which kind of limits your chances of career growth somewhat.
Also, in some very rare cases, the kind of training and certification you get from this training might not be entirely transferable to other BSN or ADN programs which means that should you want to advance your career anywhere else other than within the training institution, you might have to start all over again or take a different course altogether.
- Taking a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) from an accredited university will take you about four years.
As you can see, the amount of time you take earning your basic qualification to become an RN will depend on the path you take. Either way, you will spend about two to four years schooling at the basic level before you can move on to the next step.
Regardless of which path you choose; you are definitely going to be taking classes that include subject matters such as:
- Nursing practice
- Nursing theory
You should note that as much as you will still be qualified to work as a registered nurse with a degree from any of the many accredited programs at your disposal, having a BSN is quickly becoming more of an industry standard.
In fact, more and more employers are beginning to demand it from their potential employees. As such, you might find it more advantageous to simply go for the BSN from the start.
Apart from the fact that employers now require their potential employees to have a BSN, this kind of training also has another major advantage. With the coursework, you have hands-on clinical experience. This means that you will be required to do specialty rotations in a major hospital setting.
As a nursing student, you will most likely be taken through the emergency departments, surgical departments, critical care units, and so on. This kind of experience is vital in painting the real picture for aspiring nurses and gives you a practical feel for the different specializations that can help inform your choices better.
Trauma Nurse Tests and Licensing
Once you have completed the basic degree or BSN, you will be required to take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to be licensed as a registered nurse. This is a standardized test covering every aspect of the nursing practice, both practical and theory. If you pass the test, you can then apply for an RN license in your specific state.
To do this, you would have to provide the board with proof of your education (diploma and scores) and your NCLEX – RN test scores. At this point, it should be noted that every state is different, and depending on where you intend to practice, you might have to undergo additional CPR certification tests or provide reference letters before either taking the test, getting licensed, or starting work as an RN.
Specialty Certifications for Trauma Nurses
Once you get your RN license, you can easily begin applying for trauma nursing positions, which shouldn’t be too difficult considering that this job is in high demand. There aren’t enough trauma nurses worldwide.
Regardless of that fact, finding the right kind of job (good pay, excellent institution and great workmates) is still as difficult in this sector as it is in every other sector. This, of course, depends on the parameters that mean the most to you.
Other than that, if you want to be more than just an entry-level trauma nurse, you will have to take different specialty certifications to enhance your skillset and resume. You can start by taking a certification as a trauma-certified registered nurse (TCRN) course, which could boost your job and employment prospects.
The Board of Certification offers this certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN), which the Society of Trauma Nurses highly recommends.
Of course, certain requirements come with earning this certification. You will need:
- At least two years of trauma nurse work and experience under your belt
- At least 2,000 hours of trauma nurse experience
- At least 20 hours of coursework credits that are dedicated to nothing else but trauma nursing
Also, depending on the state and the organization you work for, there are some additional certifications that you might be required to attain. Note that even if your employer’s certification isn’t a strict requirement, having them as part of your resume and skillset will increase your marketability. These certifications could include:
- Emergency Nursing Pediatric Course (ENPC)
- Trauma Nursing Core Course (TNCC)
- Certified Flight Registered Nurse (CFRN)
- Certified Transport Registered Nurse (CTRN)
- Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN)
As is the case with almost every other profession, the more educated, experienced, and certified you are as a trauma nurse, the more responsibility you will get. Those responsibilities will be directly proportionate to your pay.
Where Can Trauma Nurses Find Work?
Finding work as a trauma nurse is really not going to be as complicated as finding most other jobs. This is mostly because there is a great demand for highly qualified trauma nurses all around the globe. That, however, doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to have to look. Some of the best places to start looking would include:
- The “careers” pages of the hospitals you want to target as potential employers
- Working hand in hand with a head-hunting agency
- Relying on your contacts within the medical community
- Getting placement through your learning and training institutions
Not only is this occupation lucrative in terms of potential earnings, but it’s also highly rewarding, especially for people who like helping others. You should, however, be prepared to face immense on-the-job pressure as trauma nurses often work in the most chaotic of situations.