What Your ER Nurse Wants You to Know

I wrote this post in collaboration with The Healthcare Hustlers. Check out this article (and others!) on their site now.

Ambulance, Emergency Department/Hospital, Healthcare Provider with Stethoscope
Photo courtesy of The Healthcare Hustlers

The Emergency Room (aka ER, Emergency Department, or ED): one of the most expensive and confusing places in healthcare. Savvy Healthcare Hustlers don’t go in to any healthcare situations blind, so we’ve called in a professional to show you the ropes, offering tips and advice on how best to manage a trip to the Emergency Room. Remember that ERs can be expensive, and you want to check your EOBs for balance billing.

Claire Phillips is an Emergency Department Registered Nurse and writer/creator of the blog: Nursing the System. As a full-time nurse she explains the process for visiting the ER and how to make your trip as easy as possible for you (and the staff)!

Claire take it away…

Thanks, Bryanna and Kirsten. Let me start by setting the stage: Your day is not going well you have chest pain, you took some medication at home with no relief, you called your primary care provider, and ruled out Urgent Care. This is a medical emergency and you’re headed to the ER.

Your knowledge of an Emergency Room may come from Grey's Anatomy, and while you don’t do this every day, I do. I’m an Emergency Department Registered Nurse.

Before you’re in pain, panicked, or in crisis - before you’re my patient - I offer you a road map for your next visit to the Emergency Department (ED, technically what many ERs are now called). On one of the worst days of your life, perhaps I can help you put some anxiety aside.

When you walk into any Emergency Department, you are entering the care of highly specialized, competent professionals, and while no one can predict your outcome or treatment plan, I can prepare you for the general direction your care will take.

Arriving At The Emergency Department

There are two ways to arrive to the ED. You can either come in through:

  • The waiting room

  • By ambulance

Most people come through the waiting room, so let’s focus our attention there.

First, you will register as a patient at the front desk by showing your ID and insurance information (make sure to have those with you!). The staff will update your medical record and ask you for your “chief complaint” i.e: "I’m having chest pain."

The next step is Triage, the process hospitals use to determine the priority of the patient’s treatment based on severity of medical needs.


The ED staff must determine the acuity of your condition. If you are at risk of death, you want to be treated immediately!

A triage nurse will call your name from the lobby, and have you enter into a private room where they will likely ask you an open-ended question like, “Tell me what brings you in today."

This is where it’s important to give a brief summa