Traditional triage nurses work in a hospital’s emergency room and are responsible for assessing patients when they first arrive.
They do this to determine the order patients are seen by a physician, and their job duties include:
- Taking a patient’s vital signs
- Determining symptoms
- Taking blood
- Ordering x-rays
- Entering patients’ information into a computer so they can move on to the next level of care
What is a Telephone Triage Nurse?
A telephone triage nurse also assesses patients and answers questions, only they do it over the telephone. This is a good option for nurses who have mobility issues as the job is performed while seated. Telephone triage nurses can find work in hospitals, physicians’ offices, or call centers. Duties vary by employer and may include:
- Answering patient calls anytime of the day or night
- Asking a variety of questions to determine an accurate assessment
- Using a computer to gain access to patient records and to search a database of possible conditions and treatment options
- Deciding if patients need emergency care of if they can be treated by their regular physician
Triage nurses are registered nurses who earned an Associate of Science in Nursing Degree or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree. The curriculum includes classes such as Medical Terminology, Chemistry, Behavioral Science, Anatomy and Physiology, Pharmacology, and Nutrition. Most programs also offer clinical opportunities to give students hands-on training working alongside experienced nurses in a hospital or clinic setting. After passing the NCLEX-RN exam (see below), students need to enroll in an emergency nursing triage program that’s approved by the Emergency Nurses Association. This is a certificate program that prepares participants to work as triage nurses, and the curriculum includes topics such as legal issues in emergency nursing care, expediting patient care, and triage protocols.
Triage nurses are required to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). It’s a computerized test that covers topics in basic care and comfort, management of care, individual health promotion and maintenance, grief and loss, coping mechanisms, pharmacological therapies, and effective care management and health promotion.
Unlike other nursing fields, there is not a specific certification exam for triage nurses. To obtain certification, they can sit for the ANCC Ambulatory Nursing Board Certification Exam, and those that pass can use the credential RN-BC (Registered Nurse Board Certified) after their name. The credential is good for five years.
Job Outlook and Salary
With more and more people gaining access to quality healthcare, the demand for triage nurses is on the rise, especially in urban areas. According to Salary.com, the median annual salary for phone triage nurses is $64,972 with a range between $59,261 and $72,047.
When starting your career, remember to:
Greet patients in a friendly manner – You’re likely to be the first medical professional they see, and a warm tone and smile are often helpful in obtaining a patient’s medical information.
Ask for more information when necessary – Once you gather the patient’s information, you’ll need to determine the cause of his symptoms and follow appropriate procedures for his medical condition. If you are not clear about the patient’s complaints, ask additional questions. Don’t make assumptions.
Talk with waiting patients – Triage nurses often get busy with incoming patients, and can’t always check on those they’ve already assessed as they wait to see a physician. This is why it’s important to tell patients to immediately inform you if their condition changes. When possible, you should also talk to patients about any delays.
Triage nurses play a key role in the emergency room. For more information about this career, or if you would like to explore nursing schools, please contact us.