What is a Trauma Nurse?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 24 November 2015
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A trauma nurse is a medical professional who specializes in emergency care. This type of nursing focuses on identifying serious problems in incoming trauma cases and on stabilizing those patients so that they can receive further medical treatment. There are a number of arenas in which a trauma nurse can work, and employment prospects in this field are generally very good, as these nurses are constantly in demand around the world.

One of the most common places for a trauma nurse to work is in an emergency room, processing incoming patients. Nurses can also work in critical care units, applying their specialized training to patients who may be prone to experiencing medical emergencies and various crises. They may also work for a transport company, keeping patients stable while they are moved by helicopter or bus to a new medical facility, and these nurses are also vital in battlefield medical care.


The key requirement for people in this field is the ability to work while under pressure. They may be required to cope with chaotic environments, stressful situations, and catastrophic trauma cases. These nurses must often contend with cultural and language barriers, and they must be able to coordinate with doctors, other nurses, and health care professionals who work together as a team to provide patient care. Trauma nursing can also have long and unpredictable hours, and it tends to put a lot of strain on the body, with a lot of prolonged standing, heavy lifting, and other sources of physical stress.

To work in this job, candidates usually get their nursing qualifications and try to focus on emergency care in their nursing training. Some pursue additional certification in trauma or emergency care so that they are more employable after graduation from nursing school. Many like to keep up their training with trade journals, periodic workshops, and memberships in professional organizations.

Work in this field can be very emotionally stressful. A trauma nurse may need to cope with very seriously injured patients along with their family members, and the ability to triage patients and injuries is critical. For example, when a patient who comes in with a seriously broken leg after a car accident, the more immediate concern might be the patient's airway, even if the leg looks awful. A good nurse can overlook the superficial appearance of the patient, and focus on keeping vital signs strong and stable so that a doctor will be able to provide the additional care required.


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Post 5

@anon142744: There are several reasons the trauma nurse and operating room nurse are so closely related.

I work at a large level 1 trauma center in St. Louis and am a member of the trauma team. We have to be prepared for anything that rolls through the operating room door. Most of the time, you have about five minutes' notice prior to the patient's arrival. The only information you may receive is GSW to the chest and abdomen coming up with a BP of 60/35 HR 165. So what do you do?

It takes years of experience to be able to set up and anticipate what the surgeon is going to need. There are two roles for a nurse in

the OR: one is scrub and the other is circulator. In my opinion, the scrub role can be the most stressful, but also the most rewarding.

About two years ago we were hit with several people shot at one time at a business in downtown St. Louis. We had no warning they were bringing the patients to the operating room. The surgeon walked in after scrubbing, ready to gown and glove while I was gloving myself. He was ready to make the incision and all I had was the knife from the pack, my bovie, and lap sponges. I remained calm, the circulator opened the instrument pans I called for, and the patient lived.

I highly recommend working in the operating room if you have the ambition to learn. Most people think all we do is bring a patient back and chart. I can assure you that you will be worn out at the end of the day both physically and mentally. It is a great learning experience and with time you can be very marketable.

Post 4

I was looking into trauma nursing and operating room nurse, and the nurse recruiter told me the operating room nurse sometimes is the trauma nurse. She said they don't really separate the two.

I am kind of confused. I thought a Trauma nurse is different from an operating room nurse. By the way, do operating nurses do hands on surgery or just pass along sterile equipment?

Post 3

A lady at my work had considered becoming a trauma nurse coordinator after she had worked in nursing for a while, but after the first few trauma nurse course she gave it up -- she had never done trauma nursing before, and it was just too much for her. It really is one of the most demanding jobs I have ever heard of.

Post 2

I think that the hardest job in the world would be being a pediatric trauma nurse. I can't even imagine what it would be like to see children hurt that badly day in and day out.

I think of course the two runners up would have to be emergency room nurses and those who do trauma ICU nursing -- my hat is off to every single one of you!

Post 1

Trauma nurses, from ER nurses to flight trauma nurses have my utmost respect. I think that that is just such a demanding field mentally (have you seen trauma nursing books?!), physically, and emotionally.

I went to a presentation by Trauma Nurses Talk Tough, which basically is an educational program to help parents and children learn to have safe and healthy behaviors, like wearing seat belts, bike helmets, etc.

It really lets you in on some of the trauma nursing secrets, and I tell you, I simply don't have the strength to do that. I really admire those who do.

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