Patients require different levels of medical care depending on their circumstances. Someone who suffered trauma in an automobile accident would need immediate medical intervention, whereas a person who cut their finger and needed stitches could be stabilized while waiting for treatment. Triage nurses must quickly assess patient needs, determining the level of emergency care to push through the most critical cases. Working as part of the front-line healthcare team, triage nurses must keep their cool under tremendous pressure to ensure patients receive the care they need when they need it.
In this article we will explore:
- Duties of a triage nurse
- Triage nurse education requirements
- Triage nurse certifications
- Working from home as a triage nurse
- Triage nurse job and salary outlook
Duties of a triage nurse
A triage nurse is a Registered Nurse (RN) with certification and training for dealing with medical emergencies. Most triage nurses work in emergency rooms and trauma centers. They provide professional nursing assessments, prioritize treatments according to urgency, and initiate medical care for patients who seek help in an emergency room.
Most triage nurses have a minimum of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, plus advanced certification. They need this advanced education and training to carry out their duties, which include making healthcare decisions based on rapidly changing circumstances. Triage nurses must have extensive knowledge for evaluating patient symptoms and making quick judgment calls on treatment.
Triage nurse education requirements
To become a triage nurse, candidates must first complete the appropriate nursing program. While it is true nurses can earn RN licensure with only an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), working as a triage nurse requires the minimum of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
Some nurses choose to complete their ADN and sit for the NCLEX-RN exam before returning to school to earn a BSN. This route allows RNs to gain nursing experience while continuing with their education. It can take three to four years to complete a traditional BSN program when attending full-time. RNs who work while finishing their schooling may take longer to earn their advanced degrees.
Triage nurse certification
Earning certification is the final step in becoming a triage nurse. Certification proves to healthcare employers that candidates have the competencies needed to work in this fast-paced nursing career. Here are some options for certification:
- Advanced Cardiac Life Support Certification – American Heart Association
- Ambulatory Care Nursing Certification – (RN-BC) American Nurses Association
- Emergency Room Nurse Certification – Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN)
- Trauma Certified Registered Nurse – (TCRN) Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN)
Certifications have eligibility requirements that must be met before nurses can enroll. Renewal periods for triage nurse certification programs vary, so it is best to check with the certifying body to ensure you meet all deadlines for renewal. There may also be continuing education requirements in order to qualify for some certifications.
Working from home as a triage nurse
With the rise of telehealth, some healthcare providers have hired triage nurses who can serve patients via telephone. Their roles are a bit different than traditional triage nurses who work in emergency rooms and trauma centers and see patients in person. Telephone triage nurses often work from their own homes, fielding calls from patients with varying health conditions. These nurses assess the situation and decide whether patients need to be seen by their regular healthcare provider or seek immediate care in the closest emergency room or trauma facility.
Telephone triage nurses must have the same competencies as their in-person counterparts. They must be able to quickly assess the information provided by the patient and make a judgment call on the level of triage needed:
- Patient will live without immediate medical attention
- Patient will die even with immediate medical attention
- Patient will survive only if they receive immediate medical attention
Doing this over the phone poses challenges that other triage nurses do not encounter, which can make working as a telephone triage nurse more stressful.
Triage nurse job and salary outlook
The average annual wage for triage nurses is $51,521 to $73,784, as of May 27, 2022. Some of the highest-paying locations for triage nurses include:
- San Francisco, CA
- New York, NY
- Boston, MA
- Washington, D.C.
- Chicago, IL
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Demand for triage nurses, as with other RNs, is expected to grow by 9% between 2020 and 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The healthcare industry is expected to add another 276,800 RNs to the 3.08 million already in the workforce.
Need help finding a triage nursing position that fits your skills and goals for your nursing career? Check out Incredible Health’s Nursing Jobs Board.