Many nurses thrive in a high-stress emergency room setting, bringing all their energy, self-composure and compassion to work. If you love the fast pace of the ER and the unpredictability of the patients you treat, let your strengths and passions shine during your job interview.
Your interviewer will likely want to find someone who’s eager to help people through trauma, illness, and injury while being able to stay calm, focused, and task-oriented. The actual interview questions may include more general topics about work experience, your perceived strengths and weaknesses, or questions that aim to get to know you as a person. Then, it may dig down into ER-specific topics.
Sarah K. Wells, MSN, RN, CEN, CNL, is a member of the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) and president-elect of ENA’s East Bay Chapter in California, an emergency department nurse and owner of New Thing Nurse, a professional and academic coaching company for the nursing community. We asked Wells to weigh in on the types of questions that ER nurses usually encounter during job interviews. The following are some examples of the most common questions -- plus some tips for how to respond to them. This should help give you a better idea of what to expect on the big day and how to prepare for it.
8 Common Emergency Room Nurse Interview Questions (& How to Respond)
1. "Why are you interested in working in this emergency department?"
Your interviewer will want to know why you’re seeking a job at this hospital versus the one across town. Before your interview, take time to learn about the hospital and its emergency department, then share what you’ve found most compelling.
For example, if you’re attracted to the hospital because it’s a certified primary stroke center or a burn center and you’ve worked with stroke victims or burn patients before, say so. Or if you enjoy working with children and the hospital has a top-notch pediatric emergency department, share your passion with your interviewer. Remember: You want to show the team how you can help them and what your skill set brings to this specific hospital.
2. "What are your on-the-job stress-management strategies?"
Your interviewer wants to know you’ll be able to handle the stress associated with a chaotic atmosphere. What support and organizing strategies do you use? Tell your interviewer about the tools and strategies that you rely upon, whether it’s a specific smartphone app, confiding in other nurses, walking during breaks, or how a positive mindset helps you thrive.
Use a particular example to show the interview team that you mean what you say.
3. "How do you manage your time at work, and how will your time-management skills make a positive impact on our emergency department?"
Due to the urgency associated with the type of care your patients will need, ER nurses need excellent time-management skills. And because the conditions that bring patients to the emergency department are varied and unknown until they arrive, it’s difficult for nurses to plan ahead or rely upon go-to strategies to get through every situation.
Let your interviewer know you’re accustomed to handling several complex cases at once and prioritizing your tasks for the day (or by the minute). If you rely on checklists or another system to keep you organized, or if you’re good at anticipating a patient’s needs, share examples of what helps you and how you use them. Also, discuss your comfort level delegating tasks to other members of the care team when multiple things need to be done at once.
4. "How would you manage three patients under your care: one who is experiencing a mental health crisis, one who visited the emergency department for chest pain, and one who has symptoms of sepsis?"
Expect a scenario-type question like this during your interview. The team wants to know how you make quick, controlled decisions. By hearing how you’d triage these patients, your interviewer will get a sense of your clinical expertise and your critical thinking skills. Be sure to discuss task prioritization, delegation, and conflict resolution within your answer.
5. "How have you dealt with distraught or difficult patients?"
Because some ER patients are disoriented, hostile, or resistant to treatment and may lash out physically or verbally when you’re trying to help them, your team needs to see how you’d maintain control of the situation and when you’d seek help. If you have a strategy, explain it and use an example. Your interviewer will want to hear that you’ve handled — or how you would handle — the situation with professionalism, patience, and empathy.
6. "Can you describe your communication style when speaking with doctors and other members of a healthcare team?"
There’s no time for miscommunication in the emergency department. It’s important to have clear communication skills, and you shouldn’t be afraid to clarify what you’ve said whenever necessary. Your interviewer will want to know that you’re confident enough to correct physicians or clarify points you’ve made.
Be prepared if this question comes in scenario-format, as well. They might say you need to correct another nurse or physician. What will you say, and how would you follow up? Remember: There’s no room for shyness, timidity, or hesitancy due to medical hierarchy, and you can show how you’d handle a miscommunication clearly and respectfully.
7. "A patient needs to have more tests and they are very anxious, in a lot of pain, and have not seen their physician. How do you communicate what is happening?"
Patients get very little time with doctors in the emergency room, so nurses answer many questions. It’s important to be flexible with your communication style. Some patients may not understand the way you explain something initially, so have optional explanations at the ready.
It’s also helpful to be direct and open with good listening skills to ensure a patient’s needs are being met. If you enjoy teaching, emphasize this, because all ER nurses teach their patients how to care for themselves upon discharge from the hospital.
While this seems like a cliche question, there’s a high rate of turnover among nurses in emergency departments, so the staff wants to know how committed you are. Many nurses knowingly take on a position temporarily, using it as a stepping-stone position when they’re interested in going back to school. Your interviewer will want to hear that you plan to stay on in the position for at least a year or two, if they choose to invest in you.
Winding Down the Interview: Questions to Ask the ER Team
When your interviewer wants to know if you have any questions, consider asking:
"Can you tell me more about the facility’s specialized care streams, such as trauma, burn, or pediatrics, and how I may become involved?"
"What are your expectations for new hires during the first 3-6 months?"
"What is the culture like in your department, and how do you handle conflicts between staff members?"
"Are there any challenges that are unique to nurses in your emergency department?"
"What’s the typical nurse-to-patient ratio in your department?"
"What are the chances for advancement within the team?"
Extra Interview Tips for ER Nurses
To prepare for your interview, think about how you’d answer the above questions. Then, enlist a friend to listen to your responses, or just speak aloud to your reflection in the mirror to see how you come across. Be sure what you say communicates the main points you want to make — that you have relevant experience and you’re passionate about working in the emergency department. Practicing aloud should help you stay focused on the topics you’re most familiar with, and it can help you feel less nervous about what to say because you’ve already rehearsed.
Dress professionally on the day of your interview. Keep your hair and accessories simple, and don’t overdo it with makeup or perfume and cologne, which can be overwhelming. If you have tattoos, you may want to consider covering them, if possible. Although tattoos and piercings are gaining more acceptance in the workplace, many hospitals still maintain strict policies against faculty and staff having visible body art of any kind. Be sure to look up the particular institution’s policies ahead of time so you can dress appropriately.
When you meet different people, greet each with a firm handshake, and be sure to exude enthusiasm during your interview, making eye contact and smiling throughout.
After the interview, send thank you letters to everyone you met, either via email or snail mail. Consider a handwritten note, which can provide the personal touch that makes you stand out. Be sure to mention two or three key reasons why you’re qualified for the job, and reaffirm your interest in joining the emergency department. Good luck!