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Becoming a Trauma Nurse: Job Description and Compensation

Job Descriptions September 23, 2013

The job outlook for healthcare careers including trauma nurse is on the rise, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS states that nursing jobs will increase faster than other industries. In fact, many states report a shortage of qualified candidates in the nursing field. Nurses can advance their career options with continuing education and training that allows them to work in emergency medicine. Trauma nurses play a critical role in crisis healthcare management. These dedicated professionals treat emerging cases in chaotic environments in order to save lives.

Description and Job Duties

Trauma service takes the nurse off the ward and away from bedside care. This career path deals with patients injuries instead of diseases. By definition, it means injury or shock occurring from an accident or violence. The trauma nurse cares for individuals involved in vehicular accidents, suffering from gunshot wounds, with puncture injuries from knives, caught in fires or dealing with some other traumatic emergency.

This specialized nursing category requires sharp assessment skills and attention to detail. Even a slight change in a patient’s condition might be a critical sign. In a trauma, the nurse works closely with emergency physicians to treat injuries that are potentially life threatening. This requires extensive knowledge of emergency drugs. For example, some treatment protocols are meant to stabilize heart rate and blood pressure. Administration requires expert titration to achieve that goal. A nurse in this field must display skill and good judgment in a fast-paced and stressful environment.

Trauma nurses provide critical care for patients on ventilators, with open wounds and spinal injuries. From broken bones to cardiac assessment, the nurse is in the front line of care for patients who have grave injuries.


The exact educational requirements depend on the state. Ideally, a trauma nurse has a Bachelor of Science in nursing degree. The minimum requirement is an RN license available after the completion of a qualified nursing program. This specialty occupation is not available to LPNs. It requires advanced certification only offered to registered nurses.


All licensed trauma specialists must complete and pass a basic life support course. In addition, the trauma nurse must have advanced cardiovascular life support, or ACLS certification. The nurse must recertify with the state nursing board every two years. Recertification requires a passing grade on both a written and practical exam.

Critical care experience is another probable requirement for state licensing. This would include hands-on work in a hospital ICU or ER environment. In some areas, trauma work might require a critical care registered nursing license obtained from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. To receive CCRN designation, a nurse must complete the required number of work hours in a critical care environment, as well as sit for an exam.

Completion of a trauma nursing core course from the Emergency Nurses Association is an added advantage. This 20-hours course includes six months ER training.


Jobs in trauma will be primarily at healthcare facilities and medical centers. Nurses in this field will often live in large cities, as opposed to remote, rural areas. Trauma centers in metropolitan areas handle cases coming in from less populated regions transported by helicopters.

The advanced training and certification requirements for a trauma nurse mean better than average salaries compared to the basic RN. Payscalereports the minimum salary for a trauma or emergency room nurse with TNCC certification is around $67,019 annually. The exact compensation will vary by location and educational requirements.

Advanced Trauma Careers

Trauma is already an advanced career for nurses. To move even further up, they can get a master’s degree or doctorate to work in administration or teaching. Trauma nurses can become nurse practitioners who specialize in emergency care, as well.

Nurses looking to work in the field can opt to cross train as flight nurses. This would require continuing education to get certification as a flight nurse. Flight nurses provide trauma assessment and treatment during transport to a medical center.

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