Triage nurse standing with her hands in her pockets

A triage nurse quickly and accurately assesses a patient's symptoms and decides where they can get the care they need. Triage nurses usually work in a setting where patients go in an emergency, where they take inventory of the patient’s symptoms, ask questions about medical history, and try to get a clear idea of what’s causing the concern.

After a quick and efficient patient assessment, the triage nurse sends the patient to where they can receive treatment. They may also support other healthcare professionals by providing patient information, answering questions, and offering guidance to help certain patients.

What are the steps to becoming a triage nurse?

The steps to becoming a triage nurse are the same as becoming a registered nurse (RN), including getting an education in nursing, passing an exam, and getting a license. Once you’ve completed that, you need additional certification to practice as a triage nurse.

Earn a nursing degree

First, you need an education. While it’s acceptable to get an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) to become an RN, the additional certification required to become a triage nurse requires you to have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

Some people decide to get their ADN and take the NCLEX-RN before they return to school to get their BSN. This way, they can work as a nurse while they complete their degree.

A BSN is typically a four-year program. However, if you already have an ADM, you can do a bridge program so that the credits you’ve already received can count toward your degree. Similarly, if you have a degree in a non-nursing field, some programs allow you to apply some of the credit you’ve already received toward your nursing degree.

These modified programs can help you get your degree faster so you can start your nursing career sooner than if you had to take four years to complete your degree.

Register for licensure

To practice as an RN, some requirements vary by state. The requirements include education from an accredited school recognized by the state. Check what you need to do to get a license in the state you want to work.

Pass the NCLEX-RN nursing exam

The NCLEX-RN is the exam you need to pass to prove you possess the knowledge to practice as an RN in the U.S. The test may take up to six hours and can include anywhere from 75 to 265 questions, depending on your score as you progress. The four main categories on the exam are The Safe & Effective Care Environment, Health Promotion & Maintenance, Psychosocial Integrity, and Physiological Integrity.

Gain work experience

Before you get an additional certification, you’ll likely need a minimum of 2 years of hands-on experience as an RN. It proves to future employers that you can thrive in such a fast-paced line of work.

Get certification as a triage nurse

Getting certified is the last thing you need to do to become a triage nurse. There are a few options you can choose from, including:

  • Advanced Cardiac Life Support Certification

  • Ambulatory Care Nursing Certification

  • Emergency Room Nurse Certification

  • Trauma Certified Registered Nurse

Apply for triage nurse jobs

After getting the required education, licensure, and certification, it’s time to apply for jobs. Triage nurses typically work in urgent care centers and emergency rooms, offering patients emergency care. A growing number of triage nurses work over the phone because of the rise in telehealth.

Read more: How much do Triage Nurses Make in The USA?

Can you become a triage nurse online?

Yes, you can get the education to become a triage nurse online, but you must write the tests in person. Not only can you become a triage nurse online, but you can practice nursing from home. Some triage nurses do their job assessments over the phone. Aside from writing exams, you can do it all from home, online, or over the phone.

What is the difference between a triage nurse and a registered nurse?

A triage nurse is an RN with advanced certification. While RNs typically focus on diagnoses and treatments, triage nurses focus on assessments.

RNs perform duties that include:

  • Keeping records of patient details

  • Preparing patients for treatments and procedures

  • Monitoring patients

  • Administering medications

  • Developing patient care plans

  • Taking samples for lab testing

  • Educating patients and their families

Triage nurses perform duties that include:

  • Patient assessment and reassessment

  • Prioritizing patients by urgency

  • Performing emergency treatments when necessary

  • Communicating with patients waiting to see a doctor

  • Educating patients and family members

  • Informing doctors of the condition of patients

  • Guiding patients to the area they will be treated

Read more: What are the different levels of nursing?

What positions can you progress to from being a triage nurse?

With a BSN, you can return to school to complete a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). From there, you can become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) and go into a specialty or be a leader in educating other nurses.

How much do triage nurses make?

The salary of a triage nurse varies by state with a national average of $42.29 per hour ($69,283.65 per year) ranging from $34.11 per hour ($63,373.00 per year) to $53.28 per hour ($98,065.00 per year).

Read more: How much do Nurses make in each state?

How long does it take to become a triage nurse?

It usually takes six years to become a triage nurse. It may take four years to complete a BSN, plus at least two years of bedside experience. If you choose to broaden your abilities as a nurse, you might decide to get multiple certifications. This would take longer to achieve, but you could work the entire time.

Read more: How long does it take to become a nurse?

Extra FAQs about becoming a triage nurse

How do I become a good triage nurse?

Triage nurses see many patients worried about their condition, so it’s important to greet each patient with a smile. If you can ease their concern, they’re more likely to relax and reveal details about their medical history. Take time with each patient to ensure you have all the necessary information.

When patients come in with their theories about what’s wrong, consider them, but trust your instincts about what you think is inaccurate. Make your patients feel as comfortable as possible so they want to give you all the information you need. It’ll make your job easier, and you’ll be better at it.

There are certain traits you should have and specific actions you should take to be an effective triage nurse. Great triage nurses:

  • Assess patients quickly and accurately

  • Are reassuring

  • Ask relevant questions to identify symptoms

  • Describe what you’re doing so patients can understand

  • Ask the right questions to reveal patients’ medical history

  • Are efficient

  • Avoid jumping to conclusions

Which individual could qualify to be a triage nurse?

You have to fulfill certain requirements to qualify as a triage nurse:

  1. Complete a BSN program

  2. Pass the NCLEX-RN

  3. Get a license to practice as an RN

  4. Receive additional certification and possibly training

If you’ve completed these steps and can verify that you’ve completed enough clinical hours necessary for your certification in your state, then you qualify to be a triage nurse.


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