Trauma nurse standing in front of a patient’s bed

When facing a life-or-death health problem, a trauma nurse is right by your side. These individuals are trained to deal with the worst and most life-threatening situations. 

They’re fearlessly dedicated, passionate, and committed to saving lives daily. 

Life as a trauma nurse isn’t easy. Every patient they treat is in critical condition. So naturally, there’s a great deal of pressure, and not every story ends the way a nurse would like. 

So why are people drawn to this field? They’re called to help save people using their specialized skills. 

Trauma nurses face the most extreme cases in healthcare, and they’re specially trained and educated to provide life-sustaining support to people in acute distress and critical condition.

What does trauma mean?

In medical terms, trauma is any condition that puts a person at immediate risk of permanent injury or death. Trauma can range from multiple injuries sustained in a car accident to anaphylaxis from an allergic reaction. 

Being a trauma nurse means being prepared to intervene and stabilize patients in critical situations. Trauma nurses are acute care specialists with experience in advanced life support and emergency nursing. 

What is the difference between a trauma nurse and a regular nurse (RN)?

Trauma nurses are registered nurses who specialize in trauma care. They have studied trauma nursing and acquired the experience and credentials to treat the most vulnerable patients. To become this type of nurse, you will need a TCRN certification, which officially makes you a Trauma Certified Registered Nurse. 

While both RNs and trauma nurses work in similar settings, a trauma nurse solely focuses on providing care to patients in critical condition and acute distress.

What qualifications does a trauma nurse need?

A trauma nurse must be a registered nurse with at least an associate’s degree in nursing. The Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing recommends at least two years of experience in your specialty field, but it is not required to sit for the TCRN exam. 

To determine what employers are after, consider looking at trauma nurse job listings or contacting ShiftMed. We can fill you in on the credentials trauma nurse employers are looking for in your area and help match you with positions you qualify to fill. 

What does a trauma nurse do day to day?

Trauma nurses provide emergency care and support to patients in severe distress during their shifts. They may have suffered a heart attack, been a violent crime victim, or been experiencing life-threatening symptoms that a doctor hasn’t even diagnosed yet. Trauma nurses never work the same shift twice.

Here are some of the things you may do every shift as a trauma nurse: 

  • Triage patients to determine who has the highest priority of care

  • Recognize signs of distress in patients and quickly intervene to stabilize them

  • Provide medical first aid, life support, CPR, and other life-saving procedures whenever needed

  • Determine the most appropriate interventions for patients in emergencies

  • Administer emergency medications intravenously 

  • Administer blood transfusions

  • Provide wound care for severe lacerations and dismemberment 

  • Work on a team of trauma nurses, emergency doctors, and surgeons on the floor to provide life-sustaining care for patients who are rapidly deteriorating

In addition to treating immediate needs, trauma nurses must also be able to recognize potential secondary conditions that can arise from trauma. Their goal is to stabilize patients and prevent them from experiencing more health complications.

Where do trauma nurses work?

Trauma nurses work in hospitals and trauma centers. They are trained to deal with the most intensive cases, specializing in facilities that treat patients with severe conditions. Sometimes, a trauma nurse may be the only one with the knowledge and skills to save someone’s life when they arrive at a facility with limited trauma support. 

The nurse must stabilize the patient until a medical team can transport them to a trauma hospital.

Trauma nurses can also work in the military, providing combat support to soldiers on the battlefield, and treating wounded soldiers sent to a military hospital. 

What is it like to be a trauma nurse?

Trauma nursing isn’t for anyone who is easily squeamish. You will see unfathomable amounts of blood, and many patients' injuries can be traumatic to witness. However, trauma nurses have nerves of steel, and they know how to remain calm and focused during the most intense situations imaginable. 

You will work in fast-paced situations; many of your cases are life-or-death scenarios. To say that trauma nursing is demanding is an understatement. It challenges you mentally, physically, and emotionally, but it also gives you the chance to save someone’s life every time you work.

How much do trauma nurses make?

Trauma nurse salaries vary based on several factors, namely experience, education, and location. That being said, the average trauma nurse salary in the United States is $65,533. This figure is based on 7890 salaries reported on You can also look at ICU nurse salaries to get an idea of how much you might earn as a trauma nurse.

Median ICU nurses in the United States earn between $56,796 to $103,841.

Are there different specialties of trauma nurses? 

Trauma nursing is a specialty. You focus on trauma care and emergency nursing. TCRNs train to provide patients with the most vital level of care in hospital emergency rooms, trauma centers, and intensive care units (ICUs). 

According to the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing, there are currently more than 7,000 TCRNs in the United States. 

Advantages and disadvantages of a career as a trauma nurse

If you’re considering becoming a trauma nurse, there are many things to know about what to expect in this career. While you may love the idea of saving lives, the reality of how grueling trauma nursing can be may mean it’s not the right fit for you.

Discover some pros and cons of being a trauma nurse to decide whether you want to pursue this career path.

Advantages of choosing a career as a trauma nurse

1) Perform engaging work

As a trauma nurse, you will never be standing around or bored during a shift. Every patient you treat is in immediate need of your care, so it’s a good position for nurses that crave constant action and a fast-paced environment. 

2) Save lives

TCRNs provide life-saving interventions every shift. They treat people who have suffered accidents, been wounded in a violent act, or have overdosed on drugs. They’re lifesavers through and through, and it’s the difference they make that motivates them to keep going even on their worst days. 

3) Diverse work environments

Trauma nurses work in emergency rooms, trauma hospitals, and the military. You can apply your skills in various environments, knowing you are saving lives wherever you go.

4) Competitive pay

Because they are always in demand and have a specialized skill set, trauma nurses qualify for higher-than-average pay for registered nurses. In addition, taking your skills on the road as a travel trauma nurse can earn you thousands per week on short-term shifts.

Disadvantages of choosing a career as a trauma nurse

1) Losing patients

Trauma nurses can find themselves on top of patients, performing chest compressions and desperately trying to save someone who’s flat-lined. They will give it their all and still watch people die. It never gets easier, and it isn’t something every nurse can handle on such a routine basis.

Trauma nurses are essential in many ways, but they bear the brunt of the worst-case scenarios most nurses try to avoid. 

You must consider the impact trauma nursing can have on your mental health. You need a reliable support system and ways to cope with the patients who unfortunately don’t make it, no matter how good of a nurse you are.

2) High-stress levels

When you’re the one people count on to save their lives, staying calm is not always easy. Many trauma nurses suffer from burnout and chronic stress. In addition to the long-term effects, stress can make it challenging to stay focused and perform your best during a shift. 

This is why trauma nurses need to develop resilience over time — the experience you gain in training and working with other experienced emergency/trauma nurses is what will help you decide if this is the field for you. 

3) Greater risk of burnout and emotional trauma

Due to their work environments and the severity of their patient's health problems, trauma nurses are more likely to experience adverse psychological effects. Burnout can be particularly damaging, not only in their personal lives but also in their work.

Before you enter trauma nursing, make sure that you are prepared for its potential effects and that you have the resources to cope with the emotional impact of the job.

How to become a trauma nurse

Earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing (ADN or BSN, respectively) and study for the NCLEX. Once you pass this national certifying exam, you can register for your RN license through your state’s board of nursing.

After becoming a licensed RN, you can look for acute care and emergency room jobs. Usually, RNs need at least one year of nursing experience before they are hired in emergency care. 

After 2 to 3 years, you can prepare for the TCRN exam, then begin applying for jobs as a trauma nurse.

Recommended Reading - How to become a Trauma Nurse in The USA

Frequently asked questions about trauma nurses

How long does it take to become a trauma nurse?

It takes between 4 and 6 years to become a trauma nurse. Therefore, if you want to earn your TCRN, you will spend several years gaining relevant experience and studying to pass the certification exam. Although the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing doesn’t have an experience requirement, it advises all aspiring TCRNs to have at least two years of experience as a nurse in emergency healthcare. 

Recommended Reading - How Long Is Nursing School in The USA?

What are the benefits of being a trauma nurse?

You work in a fast-paced environment, providing life-saving care to people in dire need. You provide definitive life-saving care, which is always an incredible feeling. Trauma nurses also get paid good salaries and work alongside dedicated people who are all part of the emergency care team. 

Is being a trauma nurse hard?

Trauma nursing is one of the most challenging nursing specialties there are. You will constantly be treating patients in critical condition, and losing them can be difficult or feeling like you didn’t do enough to save them. Being a trauma nurse can also be traumatic simply from exposure to many horrible injuries and unpleasant situations.

You have to be a resilient person to work in trauma care; it’s okay if you realize that this isn’t the ideal line of work for you. However, many other nursing jobs help you make a difference in people’s daily lives.

What is the difference between an ER nurse and a trauma nurse?

ER and trauma nurses have similar roles, but a trauma nurse specializes in severe medical emergencies. ER nurses can hold a CERN (certified emergency registered nurse), while trauma nurses hold a TCRN (trauma certified registered nurse).

Furthermore, trauma nurses are more likely to work in trauma centers, whereas emergency nurses work in hospital emergency rooms.

How many hours does a trauma nurse work?

Trauma nurses typically work 40 to 60 hours a week. They will likely work three 12-hour shifts a week, though some may work overtime. It’s not uncommon for trauma nurses to have to stay longer than expected or work overnight because of a high patient volume.