How to Advance Your Career in Emergency Nursing: A Success Story
A career in the emergency department can be fast paced, challenging and rewarding for health care professionals who enjoy the stimulation and adrenaline rush that the ER provides. Also, the ER is ideal for someone who enjoys variety in their workday — there is no such thing as a typical day in an ER.
While it can be easy to assume that there is not much room for career growth and advancement in an emergency department, particularly for registered nurses, that is not the case.
Michelle Simpson earned her nursing license five years ago and went to work on a medical-surgical floor right away, a move that ideally provides nurses a wide range of patients and conditions — experience to build on in specialties like the ICU and surgery. “That’s what everyone was saying: pay your dues on the med-surg floor for six months to a year, and you’ll be able to move anywhere in nursing,” she says.
Unfortunately for Michelle, things did not go according to plan.
“I hated my job. It was nothing like I thought nursing would be. I wanted to quit, but I kept hearing my teachers and mentors telling me that this experience was the foundation on which my nursing career would be built … a rung on the proverbial career ladder.”
Three years into her nursing career Michelle had had enough. “I quit. I was burnt out and what’s worse, I couldn’t get an interview for any nursing position that was not med-surg,” she shares. “Every response was ‘But you don’t have experience in this field of nursing.’” Michelle says that for her, paying her dues in medical-surgical nursing worked against her. “My experience was med-surg, and that’s all anyone wanted me to do, but I knew it wasn’t for me.”
While Michelle did not know where her home was in nursing, she knew she had to do something. “I joined the American Nurses Association, and one of the benefits is you get access to continuing education (CE) for free or at a reduced cost. So, I just started taking CE classes.”
Michelle also joined other professional nursing organizations. “I joined the Infusion Nurses Society because I figured I do IVs all the time, I’m sure there’s more I can learn, and I was right. I took more CE courses focusing on infusion therapy and nursing.” Michelle says she took advantage of any continuing education or certification opportunity that she encountered.
Eventually, Michelle found herself working med-surg again in a troubled hospital with staffing issues. “What happened was I was basically loaned out to whatever unit in that hospital was short staffed whenever I went to work. They wanted warm bodies,” she says, “And I was a warm body who happened to have a broad knowledge base.”
One night, Michelle worked in the emergency department and says it was a perfect fit. “I was fortunate because the reason I was sent to the ER that night was because the actual staff nurse was a no show, no call.” She worked two more nights in the emergency department before asking to be reassigned there, a move she doesn’t regret. “I found my home in the ER. Some of my friends said ‘But you’re just going to be a staff nurse or triage nurse. Don’t you want to advance?’ I told them of course I did, and I could.”
Michelle joined the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA), and she studied the Trauma Nursing Core Curriculum (TNCC) and became a TNCC prepared provider. She also recently earned her Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) certification from the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing.
For Michelle, her career changed when she changed her expectations. She says that she fell into the trap of believing nursing school, the license and the requisite miserable nursing experience were all she would ever need for advancement. “I was that nurse who complained and tried anything to duck out of staff development seminars and continuing education sessions. I thought We already did the learning; who has time for this mess? But the joke was on me.
“Nursing truly is a commitment to lifelong learning. No one is going to just hand you a promotion or your dream job because you got through nursing school and passed NCLEX. That only opens a door for you; it’s up to you to actually walk through it and find other doors to open.”
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