Triage Nurse Job Description
A triage nurse is a nursing professional who is specially trained to assess the severity of the symptoms a group of patients presents with, and to prioritize patient treatment based on that severity. Thing of triage nurses as the gatekeepers of the Emergency Room (ER).
Triage nurses need to be able to keep their heads in chaotic, emergency situations; they also need to have first-rate clinical diagnostic skills: In an emergency situation, you don’t have time to wait for the results of an arterial blood gas to determine that a patient is hypoxic; you must make that assessment on the basis of cyanosis.
Triage nurses should not be confused with telephone triage nurses, a second specialty. Telephone triage nurses work out of more administrative settings like ERs, clinics or physicians’ offices to address patients’ health concerns over the phone. Telephone triage nurses do not use their own judgment in giving out advice, but rather rely upon written institutional protocols and guidelines.
Triage Nursing: Education and Certification
Triage nurses are registered nurses, in other words graduates of either a four-year baccalaureate program, or a certified two-year associate of arts program, who’ve sat for and passed the national licensing exam. Traditionally, nurses trained for triage skills on the job, but increasingly the necessary set of skills are being taught as part of a formalized training. Many states offer a specialty certification in triage nursing.
A Shift In the Life of a Triage Nurse
There is no such thing as an “average shift” for triage nurses: Their days are as busy as the ERs where they work. Typically, ERs in urban areas are busier than ERs in rural and suburban areas, and ERs in urban areas with high poverty rates are likely to see a higher number of gunshot wounds, knife stabbings and other violent injuries. The busiest shift in any ER is typically the 11pm to 7am shift because patients who come there during that time often do so because other medical treatment centers are closed.
The triage nurse will greet all patients who do not come into the ER by ambulance, and determine if their complaint is critical enough to warrant being seen immediately by an ER attending physician. If it is not, the triage nurse will take patient vital signs and begin interviewing the patient about his or her medical history, particularly as it pertains to the presenting complaint. A triage nurse may see as many as 100 patients during a busy 12-hour shift.
How Much Does a Triage Nurse Earn?
A triage nurse’s salary depends upon the facility at which he or she works as well as the shift that he or she works. Triage nurse who work night shifts earn the highest salaries. The median salary for a triage nurse is $67,000 a year.
Job Outlook For Triage Nurses
Despite the economic downturn, the U.S. is still facing a nursing shortage. The job outlook for triage nurses is excellent and should continue to grow.