Spotlight on Acute Care Nursing: ER Nurse vs ICU Nurse Jobs

Acute Care Nursing: ER Nurse vs ICU Nurse Jobs

To celebrate National Hospital Week and National Nurses Month, we’re taking a closer look at acute care nursing jobs. What’s the difference between an ER nurse vs ICU nurse? What kind of duties do they involve, and what kind of skills and education do they require? We’ve got all the details below, from day-to-day tasks to certifications, job outlook, average pay and lots more.

> Looking for a new assignment? Check out all of our available acute care nursing jobs here

What’s the Difference between ER Nurse vs ICU Nurse Jobs?

What’s the difference between an ER nurse vs ICU nurse? For starters, both are acute care nursing jobs, which means treating patients who are critically ill or injured. But ER nurses work in the emergency room, and ICU nurses work in the intensive care unit. So, while they have much in common, the day-to-day life of an ER nurse vs ICU nurse can be quite different.

Acute Care Nursing Overview: ER Nurses

Also called a trauma nurse, an ER nurse is an RN who works in a hospital’s emergency department. As the place where people come when they’re suffering from serious injury, trauma or the onset of a critical condition, the ER is a fast-paced setting. Nurses who work in the ER must be able to quickly assess, triage and prioritize patients.

Search ER Nurse Jobs Now!

Acute Care Nursing Overview: ICU Nurses

An ICU nurse treats people in the intensive care unit. These are the facility’s most serious patients, who need continuous critical care. Like ER patients, people in the ICU are experiencing severe trauma or illness. However, they’ve already been admitted and stabilized (usually in the ER). Unlike the emergency triage of the ER, the ICU treats patients in a highly organized and sustained way.

Search ICU Nurse Jobs Now!

ER Nurse vs ICU Nurse Jobs: Duties, Education, Skills, Outlook & Pay

And that’s at the heart of the difference between the ER nurse vs ICU nurse. Both treat patients suffering from serious, life-threatening conditions. But as Brittany Hamstra BSN, RN, CPN writes at, “ER nurses thrive in chaos. ICU nurses detest chaos. When it comes to the work environment, the two specialties can seem like opposite worlds.”

ER Nurse vs ICU Nurse Jobs: Day-to-Day Duties

Much of what these nurses do on a day-to-day basis is similar. Both types of nurses do what’s necessary to save the lives of patients in the most serious conditions. Both jobs require quick thinking and the ability to respond to emergencies. Some other shared duties include evaluating vitals, giving medication, creating patient records, performing bloodwork, and providing comfort.

On a day-to-day basis, the duties of the ER nurse are more likely to involve giving CPR or emergency ventilation to new admissions. They’ll also include cleaning and dressing wounds, setting broken bones. Nurses working in the ER also help discharge patients after they become stable.

On the other hand, ICU nurses focus more on managing a patient’s transfer within the facility. They also operate and manage life support equipment, and work to create a long-term care plan. And ICU nurses can also specialize in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) or the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

ER Nurse vs ICU Nurse Jobs: Education & Skills

What skills do ER and ICU nurses need to have? Both jobs require split-second decision making and the ability to work well with others. In addition, both types should be good at helping educate patients and their families on proper ongoing care. As points out, ER nurses tend to thrive on stress. On the other hand, ICU nurses take pride in their organizational skills.

As far as education, both jobs are available only to registered nurses. Becoming an RN requires earning an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), and then passing the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Although not usually required, a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) can boost your job prospects and earning power.

Acute care nurses working in any setting usually need at least one year of experience working as an RN. Getting certified in Basic Life Support (BLS), Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS), and Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) will help improve your chances of landing a great job. Many ICU nurses also get the Certification for Adult Critical Care Nurses (CCRN Adult).

ER Nurse vs ICU Nurse Jobs: Outlook & Pay

The pay for any nursing job will depend on the city, county and state you work in. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates the average pay for RNs in the U.S. to be $37.31 per hour as of 2021. That adds up to $77,600 per year.

However, many of the employers we work with here at CareerStaff offer higher rates for both ICU and ER nurses. A recent job search shows a rate that’s almost double the BLS estimate — $62-$67 for jobs in places like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and California. See for yourself with a quick look at all of our available acute care nursing jobs.

Whether it’s ER or ICU nursing you’re interested in, both types continue to be in high demand, even after the height of the pandemic. So, if you’re a nurse who wants to make the move into ER or ICU nursing, you can count on a bright career outlook. And remember, the more experience you have, the better!

Find Your Next Acute Care Nursing Job with CareerStaff

As the nation’s leading provider of nursing jobs, we’ve got opportunities all across the United States. From local and permanent jobs to travel and per diem assignments, CareerStaff has a great career waiting for you — including great pay and benefits! Check out our job search page to see what’s available. Or, get started now with a quick online application.

Search Acute Care Nursing Jobs