Nurse Types / ICU Nurse vs. ER Nurse
Emergency Department (ED) nurses work with patients who seek emergency medical attention at a hospital. These nurses can quickly triage patients to filter out the sickest of the sick. ED nurses are trained to work quickly and efficiently with a multidisciplinary medical team.
Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurses are highly skilled and use many different medical technologies and therapeutic practices to support patients with life threatening conditions. Intensive Care Unit nurses work with fewer patients who are often sedated.
In this article, we’ll explore:
- What is an intensive care unit nurse?
- What is an emergency department nurse?
- How do ICU and ED nurses compare?
- What are the differences between intensive care unit nurses emergency department nurses?
What is an intensive care unit nurse?
ICU nurses work in the intensive care unit of a hospital. They care for patients experiencing a life threatening condition that requires a lot of intervention and monitoring. Their patients are medically fragile and require meticulous, knowledgeable care from highly trained ICU nurses.
What is an emergency department nurse?
An ED nurse works in the emergency department of a hospital and quickly supports patients to get the lifesaving treatment they need. For example, a patient may require:
- Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
- Blood sugar management in Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA)
- Swift identification of a STEMI or stroke requiring the patient to go to the cath lab or receive tPA
ED nurses care for a wide variety of patients and learn different skills to best help each patient. These skills are needed in order to ask about:
- Domestic violence
- Food insecurity
- Other safety concerns
They must use active listening skills, and work quickly and accurately under pressure for the health of their patients.
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How do ICU and ED nurses compare?
The emergency department provides immediate medical care to patients arriving at the hospital. That means ED nurses triage and stabilize patients who will then be transferred to the ICU.
ICU nurses primarily take care of patients who require a higher level of care than what an emergency nurse typically provides. There are different types of intensive care units in a hospital, such as the pediatric intensive care unit or the cardiovascular intensive care unit.
Emergency department nurses may be assigned 4 patients at one time. Typically intensive care unit nurses have 1 to 2 patients at a time.
Both ED and ICU nurses do the following:
- Advocate for patients
- Manage life threatening conditions
- Work with a multidisciplinary team
- Provide patient education
- Care coordination
- Blood transfusions
- Close monitoring of patient condition
If you are currently working on an inpatient hospital unit and are looking to make a switch to ED or ICU nursing, there are some initial steps you can take. You may want to informally interview a nurse who works in one of those departments. Get to know the culture of that unit.
There may be certifications or experience requirements necessary to transition to ED or ICU nursing at your current facility. If you are looking for a new employer, review the job requirements to see if obtaining a certification in a specialty can increase your chances of being hired.
What are the differences between intensive care unit nurses and emergency department nurses?
There are some significant differences between the work performed by ED and ICU nurses. Both nurses are known for being highly detail oriented and meticulous. Each unit requires their nurses to have quick decision making.
- Make quick decisions
- Provide trauma care
- Start IVs and draw labs
- Assist surgical procedures
- Provide discharge education
- Manage care for sedated patients
- Provide wound care
- Manage central lines and multiple infusions
- Manage patients who are intubated and have ventilators
- Respond to health emergencies throughout the hospital
- Monitor and report subtle changes in patient health status
Intensive care unit nurses make on average $90,855 per year which can vary widely by state cost of living, years of experience, and education.
Emergency department nurses make an average annual salary of $91,071. This can be also be affected by experience, credentials, education, and geographic location.
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Both ED and ICU nurses work in the inpatient hospital setting. In hiring nurses, hospitals may require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or include “BSN preferred” in their job description.
Per the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), BSN prepared nurses are “prized for their skills in critical thinking, leadership, case management, and health promotion, and for their ability to practice across a variety of inpatient and outpatient settings.”
You will also see the Veterans Administration (VA), along with the armed forces, require a BSN to be an active duty Registered Nurse.
After completing your nursing education and passing the NCLEX, you must apply for a nursing license with your state’s board of nursing. The requirements to obtain a license vary by state. For example, some states require a background check, child abuse reporting, continuing education, or opioid use education.
There are a variety of certifications ICU and ED nurses can obtain. For most ICU and ED positions, these certifications are required.
- Basic Life Support (BLS)
- Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS)
- Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS)
- ED nurses specifically:
- ICU nurses specifically:
What are the career outlooks for ICU nurses and ED nurses?
The career outlook for both types of nurses is very positive. It is an exciting time to be a nurse as this is a rapidly growing profession. Job growth is expected to be 6% between 2021 and 2031. Nurses help support people with critical, life threatening conditions, so nurses are in high demand!
Once you’ve gained experience as an ED or ICU nurse, there are many ways you can advance your career. Some nurses choose to obtain a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) to advance the work they do in the ED or ICU. You can also complete free continuing education units through Incredible Health.
The transition to an ED or ICU nurse can be a wonderful career advancement as you will gain new knowledge and experience in healthcare. Let Incredible Health help you land your dream job!
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Work environment, patient load, pay, and duties.
The salaries are close with ICU nurses making about $90,855 and ED nurses making about $91,071.
That depends on the work environment you prefer. The ER can be hectic with life changing decisions made in an instant. The ICU is much more calm as many patients are sedated.
- AACN Fact Sheet. aacnnursing.org. Accessed August 9, 2022.
- ACLS. Acls.com. Accessed August 1, 2022.
- BLS. Redcross.org. Accessed August 1, 2022.
- CCRN. aacn.org. Accessed August 9, 2022.
- CEN. bcen.org. Accessed August 9, 2022.
- CMC. aacn.org. Accessed August 9, 2022.
- CRRN. rehabnurse.org. Accessed August 9, 2022.
- PALS. cpr.heart.org. Accessed August 9, 2022.
- TNCC. healthcaretrainingacademy.org. Accessed August 9, 2022.
Top Emergency RN jobs on Incredible Health
Langhorne, PA | $68,000 to $104,000 /year
Roslyn, NY | $80,000 to $120,000 /year
West Palm Beach, FL | $55,000 to $100,000 /year
Philadelphia, PA | $49,900 to $105,000 /year
Willits, CA | $80,000 to $110,000 /year