Nurse waiting for an ambulance

How to Become an Emergency Nurse Practitioner

Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

Nurse waiting for an ambulance

Nobody ever plans to get injured or become seriously ill, but when life’s inevitable ups and downs force us to deal with a medical crisis, the emergency room is almost always the best place to go. Hospital emergency rooms have the specialized equipment and facilities required to deal with all types of medical emergencies. They’re also staffed by highly trained healthcare providers like emergency nurse practitioners (also known as ENPs).

If you’re excited by the thought of working in a fast-paced environment and responding to medical emergencies ranging from minor to legitimately life-threatening, becoming an emergency nurse practitioner could be the best nursing specialty for you. There’s never a dull day on the job, and it’s also one of the highest-paying nursing careers. In fact, we recently featured emergency nurse practitioners on our list of the highest-paid nursing jobs in 2021.

This career guide will teach you everything you need to know about becoming an emergency nurse practitioner, including the educational requirements, certifications, day-to-day duties, and how long it generally takes to launch your new career.

Not sure if becoming an emergency nurse practitioner is the right nursing specialty for you? Click here to see our full list of the 18 highest-paying nursing jobs.

Emergency Nurse Practitioner Definition

What Is an Emergency Nurse Practitioner?

Emergency nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) with extensive training and experience in emergency medicine. They’re well-rounded healthcare professionals who are qualified to take the lead in many treatment scenarios. Like other nurse practitioners, ENPs can carry out certain tasks that were traditionally reserved exclusively for physicians, like prescribing medications or performing minor procedures.

Emergency Nurse Practitioner: Job Description

What Does an Emergency Nurse Practitioner Do?

Every day on the job is different for emergency nurse practitioners, though just about all of them will involve assessing and treating people dealing with pressing medical concerns. Emergency NPs may treat wounds or orthopedic injuries, prescribe medication to manage pain, illnesses, or infections, or be part of a larger team providing critical care to patients with life-threatening issues. Emergency nurse practitioners commonly refer patients to see specialists after providing initial treatment and educate patients and their families on how to continue care at home if they are not being admitted to the hospital.

Emergency Nurse Practitioner Duties

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of emergency nurse practitioners include:

  • Assessing patients who arrive at the emergency room
  • Administering emergency treatment for wounds, injuries, or illnesses
  • Prescribing medication and performing minor medical procedures
  • Ordering diagnostic tests and interpreting their results
  • Educating patients and their caregivers on how to continue treatment at home
  • Referring patients to physicians, specialists, or surgeons when necessary

Emergency Nurse Practitioner Skills

Working in an emergency room is not for the faint of heart. Emergency nurse practitioners need to stay calm under pressure and manage their emotions in what can sometimes be a stressful and hectic environment. Attention to detail and advanced medical knowledge is incredibly important, as ENPs frequently operate with limited oversight from attending physicians. The ability to multitask is also vital for emergency nurse practitioners, as you may need to keep track of multiple patients’ needs simultaneously.

Emergency room sign

Where Do Emergency Nurse Practitioners Work?

Most emergency nurse practitioners work in hospital emergency rooms and intensive-care units, though you’ll also find some ENPs working in smaller urgent-care clinics. Since emergency departments are open 24 hours a day by necessity, many emergency nurse practitioners will need to work swing or graveyard shifts. Most ENPs work full-time, and while scheduling can be unconventional, many emergency nurse practitioners enjoy the flexibility of having their days off when most people in 9-5 jobs are stuck at the office.

Emergency Nurse Practitioner Schooling & Certification

How Long Does It Take to Become an Emergency Nurse Practitioner?

What Degree Do You Need to Be an Emergency Nurse Practitioner?

Emergency nurse practitioners frequently take on a leading role in a variety of emergency treatment scenarios, which means they’re required to have years of experience and extensive medical training. Like any other nursing specialty, you’ll need to start by earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited college or university. Traditionally, that requires spending a full four years in school, but with an accelerated degree program, you could earn your BSN in as little as 32 months! Emergency nurse practitioners will also need to earn a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) before they’re eligible to become a certified NP.

Any long-term goal seems much more attainable when you break it down into individual steps, and becoming an emergency nurse practitioner is no different.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to the education, experience, and certifications you’ll need to become an emergency nurse practitioner:

1. Enroll in a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program

The first step in your emergency nurse practitioner education is enrolling in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program from an accredited college or university. While graduating from nursing school will be a significant challenge requiring dedication and focus, nearly anyone willing to work hard enough can become a registered nurse. For example, to enroll in the BSN program at Brookline College, all you’ll need is a high school diploma or GED with a GPA of 2.5 or higher, plus a passing score on the ATI-TEAS admission exam.

Laptop draped with a stethoscope

2. Earn Your BSN Degree

Before you can become an emergency nurse practitioner, you’ll first need to earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Your BSN coursework will include general-education requirements like math, literature, statistics, psychology, and communications—courses you’ll find in any bachelor’s degree program. While these classes may not have a direct connection to nursing or medicine, they’ll help you become a better problem-solver under pressure, which is critical for emergency nurse practitioners who must think and act quickly in potentially life-threatening situations.

Of course, the main focus of your BSN program will involve learning the various aspects of nursing. Many of your classes will cover how to assess and care for all types of patients, and treat many of the most common injuries you can expect to encounter while working in an emergency room. Other classes will teach you about pharmacology and all the different medicines and units of measure used in the medical field. You’ll also cover health care law and ethics and take classes that focus on improving your evidence-based decision-making. These courses are where you hone the clinical instincts you’ll need to make fast, accurate decisions in emergency situations, and where you’ll learn how to handle certain scenarios that may have moral or legal implications.

Alongside your nursing-specific coursework, you’ll also spend time studying related medical sciences like anatomy, microbiology, nutrition, and human development. Since emergency nurse practitioners treat such a wide variety of patients, a well-rounded knowledge of the human body will be important for decoding symptoms and spotting other factors that may be contributing to your patients’ problems.

The final step of your BSN education requires completing a clinical capstone program, which will give you real-world experience working with actual patients. While your nursing education will involve plenty of hands-on training and even simulated emergency situations, there’s no substitute for putting yourself in an environment where your actions directly affect patient outcomes.

Wherever you choose to pursue your nursing degree, make sure it’s with a college that’s up-to-date on the latest training tools, and one that’s committed to supporting their students from their first day on campus until long after graduation. Nursing schools that offer students extra services like job-placement programs can sometimes help you line up your first RN job before you’ve even graduated!

3. Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

Anyone who plans to become an emergency nurse practitioner must first get licensed as a registered nurse, which requires passing the NCLEX-RN exam. The NCLEX is a computer-adaptive test, meaning the number of questions and the amount of time it takes will depend on how many questions you answer correctly. The highest number of questions is typically around 265 over a maximum of six hours—however, the test can also be over in as few as 75 questions if you’re answering all the questions correctly! Two optional breaks are scheduled at the 2-hour mark and the 3.5-hour mark. Practice exams are readily available online, and many people find it helpful to get a preview of the test format (not to mention reveal any areas you may need to review before taking the real thing).

Beautiful nurse typing on a laptop

4. Gain Experience as a Licensed Registered Nurse

Once you’ve passed the NCLEX, you’ll be eligible to receive a nursing license from the state in which you intend to practice. The NCLEX is nationally recognized, which means you have the flexibility to take your nursing talents just about anywhere you’d like. For a future career as an emergency nurse practitioner, you’ll likely want to seek out RN jobs within hospital emergency rooms or intensive-care units, where you’ll gain experience handling all types of medical emergencies and be able to learn from other ENPs.

Nursing license renewal requirements vary by state, but you’ll generally need to renew your license every two to three years. As long as you’ve been actively working as an RN or participating in continuing education programs (like an MSN degree program, for example), keeping your nursing license current shouldn’t be too much of a hassle.

5. Earn a Postsecondary Nursing Degree

Because emergency nurse practitioners routinely take on a leading role in administering life-saving treatments, they must complete a postgraduate nursing degree—almost always a master’s of science in nursing (MSN). Many educational institutions offer MSN programs aimed at acute or emergency care, which will focus on building the skills and confidence you’ll need to handle all types of medical emergencies.

You’ll find advanced-practice MSN programs at nursing schools across the country, including online programs that allow working full-time as a registered nurse while earning your master’s degree. Typically, earning your MSN degree takes two more years in school, though you can finish some accelerated programs as quickly as 18 months.

6. Become a Certified Nurse Practitioner

After completing an MSN program centered on advanced-practice nursing, you’ll be eligible to get certified as a nurse practitioner by either the American Nurses Credentialing Center or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. The AANP offers a certification specifically for emergency nurse practitioners (ENPs), though many emergency nurse practitioners are also licensed as family nurse practitioners (FNPs). Your overall experience working in emergency-room settings will likely be more important than your specific NP certification. Nurse practitioner credentials from both the ANCC and the AANP are valid for a full five years before you’ll need to go through the renewal process.

Emergency Nurse Practitioner Salary

How Much Do Emergency Nurse Practitioners Make?

As working in an emergency room can be quite demanding, emergency nurse practitioners earn some of the highest salaries among all nursing specialties. Salary.com indicates ENPs earn an average of over $117,000 per year, which works out to more than $56 per hour. Emergency room nurse practitioners in the top 10% of earners routinely bring home salaries of over $140,000 per year.

Emergency Nurse Practitioner Job Outlook

What is the Job Outlook for Emergency Nurse Practitioners?

As accidents and injuries are an unfortunate fact of life, there will always be a need for medical workers who specialize in responding to emergencies. That means plenty of emergency nurse practitioner jobs will continue to be available, both within hospital emergency departments as well as at outpatient facilities like urgent-care clinics. While the BLS doesn’t provide detailed job data specifically for emergency NPs, the overall number of nurse practitioners is expected to increase a whopping 45% by the year 2030. Considering the average growth rate for all other jobs is only around 4%, emergency nurse practitioners can expect to have excellent long-term job prospects for many years to come.

Group of medical professionals in a hallway

Ready to Start Your Career as an Emergency Nurse Practitioner?

If you’re thrilled by the idea of responding to medical emergencies on a day-to-day basis—and can keep your cool in a sometimes-chaotic environment—a career as an emergency nurse practitioner will be exciting, fulfilling, and also quite lucrative. Emergency nurse practitioners not only enjoy some of the highest salaries among all nursing specialties, they also get the chance to utilize every part of their nursing skill set to solve different problems every day.

Ready to start your journey toward a rewarding career as an emergency nurse practitioner? Click here to learn more about the BSN program at Brookline College, and take the first steps toward your new career in nursing today!