I Was An ER Nurse. Until the Day I Wasn’t.

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I have always known I would be an ER nurse.  Deep down, even when I wasn’t a nurse, I knew I would be.  When I was a kid, my mom and aunt were nurses and I KNEW that’s what I wanted to do.

Picture of laptop computer, coffee cup and stethoscope with text I was an ER Nurse until I wasn't

Growing up, I would here stories and I idolized my mom for the things she did.  She brought babies into the world, for goodness sake.  How amazing is that?

When I was a lowly carhop at Sonic, it was to get through high school and afford to pay for nursing school.

When I got a job in the emergency department as a nurse aide/secretary, I FELL IN LOVE.  I knew then and there that not only did I want to be a nurse. 

I wanted to be an ER nurse.  

When I took a brief sabbatical to work in radiology after graduating the rad tech program, I spent every spare moment I could in the ER, learning everything I could from the amazing Emergency Department nurses and doctors.

In 2011, I graduated nursing school and immediately went to work in the ER.  The group of medical professionals that trained me were the most knowledgeable, patient, wonderful saints to every grace me with their presence.  I learned more than I could have ever dreamed. 

For the next few years, I was in heaven.  I learned more than I ever thought a person could learn. I became the ER nurse I had always envisioned I would be.

I knew how to do chest compressions, assist in intubations and I could start IVs with the best of them.  I could tell you what each of the 6 meds I was fixing to give you was going to do. 

I could comfort the dying.  I could support the family.  I could love the addict.   I could sympathize with the rape victim.  I could control the insane.

But then it started to change.  

Slowly but surely, the experienced ER nurses got fed up with the changing health care field and left for greener pastures.  They were tired of being mistreated and overworked in less than optimal conditions.

Being a still-relatively-new nurse, I took over in their stead.  I managed the floor, taught the new employees and took on bigger and (at the time I thought) better responsibilities. 

Then I started to notice it. I noticed it, I felt it and I took it home at the end of shift to my family.

Why are there only 3 nurses at start of shift to run 16 rooms and triage?

Why am I being asked to charge and take patients?

Why are there 19 patients in a 16 bed ER?

Why is administration calling from their office on another hall/floor/building to question our decisions as floor nurses?

Why are these family practitioners calling and asking about their patients wait time when the ER is full and we have no available beds?

Why are PCPs sending their patients to us anyways?

Why did the patient’s doctor tell him he’d be “brought right back to a room” and not have to wait in the waiting room?

Why is Urgent Care sending us a suture removal?

Why is this patient’s family yelling at me for not getting their family member who’s NPO a meal tray?  Can’t they see we just called that code?

Why have these patients been here for 4/5/6 hours?

Why are we so short staffed again?

Why am I being re”educated” on things I was just educated on?


And then suddenly, all of the joy of being an ER nurse was stripped away from me.  I went quickly from loving my job to HATING the thought of even driving in to work.  

When I got to work and saw a good crew or my band of “work wives”, I was happy for about 20 seconds before I realized my 2 work wives and I would be the only nurses on shift. 

When I saved a patient’s life, I was on cloud 9 for about 10 seconds before someone yelled at me for the 60 things I couldn’t do while performing chest compressions.  

When I advocated for my patient or a fellow staff member, I got joy out of helping for about 10 seconds before someone from anywhere other than the ER called to tell me about something I did wrong.

It’s happening in ERs across the country.  YOUR ER nurses are getting fed up with being mistreated and overworked.  We are not given breaks. We are not given staff.  We are given too many responsibilities or being given responsibilities they aren’t truly ready for. 

We aren’t being educated about the things we NEED to save lives, because someone in an office with no RECENT ER experience has decided that we need to be re-educated on HIPAAA for the 6000th time. 

We are graduating nursing schools and being THROWN into jobs we have been inadequately trained for and expected to save lives when we don’t even know how to spell paracentesis yet.

Those who don’t work in our field won’t get it.

Yes, we are paid well.  That’s because we are CONSTANTLY at risk of losing our license or killing someone.

Yes, we “knew what we signed up for when we became nurses”.  We signed up to help people.

An ER nurse wants to be an ER nurse because they love treating the sicker of the sick.

That doesn’t mean we should have to go 12 hours without food or a break to pee.  When’s the last time you went 12 hours without peeing?

Yes, we know the nursing field is suffering.  Hospitals everywhere are short staffed.  That doesn’t mean you should take it out on us when your family member doesn’t get the 6th blanket they’ve asked for because we only have the staff to handle the EMERGENCIES IN THE EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT TODAY.

I have fallen out of love with the career that I thought I would love until I died.  I am contemplating leaving the hospital that I have worked at for 16 years because the taste it has left in my mouth is so bitter, I don’t know how many more spoonfuls I can swallow.

I don’t feel like I make a difference anymore.

 I have the experience and the knowledge.  I can still tell you what the 6 meds I am going to give you will do.  I can still do chest compressions and assist in intubations. I can start an 18g in your 98 year old, post chemo mother. 

I comfort the dying. I support the family. I love the addict. I  sympathize with the rape victim. I control the insane.

I take care of you at your worst, and I don’t feel like it matters anymore.

If you enjoyed reading this, be sure to also read about the day I realized I didn’t want to be a nurse anymore.

If you are a nurse, or know a nurse/nursing student, check out my go tool nursing tools here.

Emergency Department Nurse, one of the toughest jobs on the planet

10 thoughts on “I Was An ER Nurse. Until the Day I Wasn’t.”

  1. The facts are so bitterly true. Even from an EMS stand point, we are treated like the unwanted step children, with shitty hours and even worse pay. But I still love to help those who truly need it.

    • Well I can tell you love what you do.

  2. I never thought I would be happy being anything other than an ER nurse as well. I once got a scolding because I told the CEO I didn’t care about his numbers-I care about my nurses and the patients. It’s a totally different experience when you get into an environment where your manager supports you, you get paid well, staffing ratios matter, you get a lunch break, and by damn you actually have staff. I miss it sometimes, but I truly enjoy my job right now. I’ve been where you are. Change is good. I love you!

    • I hope the job change pays off!! We shall see!

  3. I hope that this new chapter in your life is better then the end of the previous one. I know that you are anxious about this move, leaving a job you loved and life long friends that are like family. You were ready for a change, you should not dread going to work, life is too short for all that.. You will be better off for having taken this chance and searching for place that truly appreciates the amazing things you do each and every day.
    Good Luck Racheal, thank you for inspiring others to chase their dreams and not to settle for just being ok……
    You are truly AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • It will all work out exactly how it was meant to. Thank you for inspiring me to go for it!

  4. My baby girl is growing up. You’ve lived your dream and are ready to move on. This is not a negative. Some people stay in the same specialty forever. Some don’t. When I moved to Heme/Onco as a NP, a friend told me “It’s just like life…you’ll always have your first love but you’ll learn to love again”. She was right! You’ll find that allowing yourself to be vulnerable, will grow you more than anything. Be prepared for going from the most experienced back to a new nurse. It’s challenging but if you allow it, you will find your joy again! I LOVE YOU BNF and am so proud of you!

    • I love you too!!! That’s a great way to look at it. Thank you for sharing that with me!

  5. I have just graduated and after reading this psot i dont know what to do with my life…

    • Find something you love!!! If you don’t love it or when you start to get burned out, find something different.

      Don’t work yourself to death. It I’ll burn you out quick and you’ll have nothing to show for it.

      Don’t worry. It will all work out exactly how it was meant to.


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