How To Become a Trauma Nurse

By Joelle Jean, FNP

Updated September 8, 2021 | Published February 25, 2020

Updated September 8, 2021

Published February 25, 2020

Joelle Y. Jean is a family nurse practitioner and writer. She currently works at CVS Minute Clinic. She lives in Queens, NY with her husband, two little boys and cat, Zuzu.

Trauma nurses work in fast-paced environments caring for people with critical and sometimes, life-threatening injuries. Working alongside emergency care teams, medical technicians and paramedics, trauma nurses see patients of all ages with acute illness and injuries. In this article, we define what a trauma nurse is, job duties, responsibilities and average salary as well as discuss how to become a trauma nurse and answer frequently asked questions about this role.

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What is a trauma nurse?

A trauma nurse is a registered nurse who works in an emergency care unit within a hospital or trauma center. They must be certified in:

  • Basic Life Support (BLS)

  • Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS)

  • Pediatrics Advanced Life Support (PALS)

  • In some cases Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP)

They can also be employed as a part of an ambulance service or outpatient clinic. They work alongside advanced medical personnel such as:

  • Doctors

  • Nurse practitioners

  • Physician assistants

  • Surgeons

What does a trauma nurse do?

Trauma nurses carry out life-saving emergency care to patients in need of immediate assistance. They have to be able to make quick, educated decisions. They assess each patient and triage them depending on the severity of their injuries.

Trauma nurses can have several patients, with different injuries, at the same time. Their main duties include:

  • Quickly identify patients who need immediate help

  • Stabilizing patients

  • Act as a liaison to the patient, their family members and advanced medical personnel

  • Communicate with first responders

  • Wound care

  • Provide patient education

  • Document appropriately

  • Assist with post mortem care

Trauma nurses are also expected to use medical equipment to improve a patient's condition or increase their chances of survival. Trauma nurses:

  • Perform CPR

  • Use defibrillators, a machine to control the heart

  • Initiate IVs

  • Administer life-saving medications and fluids such as epinephrine, atropine, adenosine, magnesium sulfate, sodium bicarbonate and normal saline

Responsibilities of a trauma nurse

Trauma nurses also have a variety of job responsibilities. These responsibilities are unique to the types of trauma victims treated in the emergency setting. Trauma nurses might be responsible for patients in:

  • Automobile accidents

  • Victims of assault

  • Stabbings

  • Head trauma

  • Neglected and abused patients

  • Gunshot wounds

  • Drownings

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Average salary

The average salary for trauma nurses is similar to that of an emergency room nurse—around $37.87 per hour. This can vary depending on the location and required job duties. Additional education and certifications can also increase one’s salary.

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Job outlook for trauma nurses

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, RN positions are said to rise 7% from 2019 to 2029. RNs are considered the fastest-growing occupation. In addition, by the year 2030, all baby boomers—born between 1946-1964—will be over the age of 65. They will need health care services. Other reasons why RNs and trauma nurses will be needed:

  • Focus on preventative care

  • Increase in chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, cardiac disease

How to become a trauma nurse

There are multiple steps needed to become a certified trauma nurse. The following list will explain the importance of each step in your career-seeking process:

  • Complete a registered nursing program.

  • Take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

  • Complete the necessary work experience.

  • Earn the Trauma Certified Registered Nurse Certification (TCRN).

  • Complete trauma nursing courses.

  • Apply for trauma nurse positions.

  • Earn additional certifications.

1. Complete a registered nursing program

Enroll in and graduate from a registered nursing program. There are three options for aspiring nurses to complete a program:

  • A diploma nursing program: You’ll obtain your education through a hospital or school program that prepares you for the NCLEX-RN.

  • A two-year nursing program: Known as Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Associate’s of Science in Nursing (ASN), graduates of these programs obtain a two-year degree in nursing before becoming a registered nurse and passing the NCLEX-RN exam.

  • A Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) program: Graduates attend a university or college and earn a degree equivalent to four years of undergraduate study.

Because most hospitals are aiming to achieve magnet status, most only accept bachelor-prepared nurses. Having a BSN can also give you broad knowledge of skills and experience in related roles and procedures.

If you currently are a diploma- or associate-prepared nurse, inquire if your hospital or clinical setting provides tuition reimbursement, and then, start completing the necessary classes to earn your BSN If they don’t, think about completing courses part-time.

2. Take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN)

You must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to become a registered nurse. Passing the NCLEX provides you with an RN license. This is usually completed immediately following your undergraduate education.

3. Complete necessary work experience

The Board of Certification for Emergency recommends having two years of experience in your specialty area before taking the exam for the Trauma Certified Registered Nurse Certification, but it is not required. During this period, you can gain valuable experience. Here you will learn about the types of emergency facilities you prefer working in such as:

  • Emergency room

  • Trauma center

  • Critical care unit

  • Working on the Ambulance

  • Flight transport services

4. Earn the Trauma Certified Registered Nurse Certification (TCRN)

After you’ve gained experience, consider earning a certification in trauma nursing. According to the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN), TCRNs practice across the continuum of trauma care who want to demonstrate their expertise and knowledge in trauma nursing. To sit for the exam you must:

  • Hold a current, unrestricted registered nurse license in the United States or its territories.

  • Have two years of experience in your specialty area, (highly recommended by BCEN, but it’s not required)

When you pass the exam, your certification will be valid for four years, after which you'll need to keep your certification current and update your certification by participating in continuing education programs.

5. Complete trauma nursing courses

After you have passed and received your certification, you can participate in continuing education courses related to emergency medicine and trauma. You can find courses at the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA). You can complete these courses through associations such as the emergency nursing association.

6. Apply for trauma nurse positions

Now that you have completed the necessary education and professional credentials, you can begin applying for trauma nurse positions. You should tailor your resume and cover letter to specific job postings and use your experiences working as an RN to determine the best work environment for you.

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7. Earn additional certifications

It’s always good to have certifications when working as an RN or specifically as a trauma nurse. Some hospitals require certificates after a year or so of working in the ER or critical care unit. Having certificates also makes you a more desirable candidate if you do decide to look for different positions. Some other certificates include:

  • Trauma Nursing Core Course (TNCC)

  • Certified Pediatric Emergency Nurse (CPEN)

FAQ about being a trauma nurse

What kind of skills do you need to be a trauma nurse?

Trauma nurses need skills in:

  • CPR

  • IV insertion

  • How to properly use life-saving medical equipment

  • Identify abnormal heartbeats

  • How to calculate medications and IV drips such as magnesium sulfate quickly and correctly

  • Quickly identifying types of medications needed depending on a patient's injuries

  • Recognizing when a patient isn’t doing well

What is their job environment like on a daily basis?

A trauma nurse's daily job environment is fast-paced and high-stress. They often care for patients with life-threatening injuries. Depending on their work environment, a trauma nurse might attend to a scene of a roadway accident or other trauma settings to administer on-site care. On the other hand, if there are no traumas for the day, trauma nurses can assist in other hospital departments.

What makes a good trauma nurse?

A good trauma nurse is one who:

  • Works well in high-stress situations

  • Must be able to remain calm under pressure

  • Can demonstrate superb communication skills

  • Knows how to communicate with other trauma nurses and medical personnel to determine a patient's condition

  • Is able to emotionally compartmentalize past situations

  • Knows how to multitasks

  • Thinks and moves quickly

  • Doesn't frighten easily

  • Likes working in face-paced environments

  • Works well under pressure

  • Is unafraid of heights or flying

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