A Day in the Life of an ER Nurse

ER Nurse Britt Hayes

What do Tetris and the duties of being an ER nurse have in common? More than you think. We found that out when we decided to give BestMEDICINE readers an insight into what it takes, day in and day out, to be a nurse in the ER.

We asked one of our RNs to let us “behind the curtain” and detail what takes place during a regular 12-hour shift in the ER (and what happens before and after it). Britt Hayes, RN, has worked at Renown Regional Medical Center for more than 17 years. Most of her experience is as an ER/trauma nurse.

Hayes shared some of the highlights of a recent day shift in the ER – Saturday, Sept. 28, which was during Street Vibrations weekend.

5:50 a.m.
I wake up, shower and get myself ready for the day.

6:15 a.m.
I wake my daughters – Alex, 9, and Ryan, 7 – and help them pack their bags to go to a friend’s house. That’s our routine when my husband, Clint, is working his 48-hour shift at the fire station.

6:45 a.m.
I’m at work, grabbing a quick bite of breakfast at Sierra Café (our cafeteria). Soon, I’ll head to our morning “huddle” before my shift. This is where we’re briefed on any changes or issues in the ER.

7 a.m.
Today, I’m the charge nurse. That means I’ll be at the main desk coordinating nurses, patients and assigning each to the most appropriate “pod” for treatment, depending on their condition. We have red, blue, green, yellow and purple pods, plus the Renown Children’s ER and the Clinical Decision Unit, where we observe patients and run lab tests in a setting much like an inpatient room. The charge nurse also takes calls from pharmacies and answers questions from staff. It’s like playing a game of Tetris!

8 a.m.
I’ve just sent two of our staff home sick (there is a nasty stomach virus going around).

8:15 a.m.
Two trauma patients arrive, both motorcycle accidents. Street Vibrations is in full force!

9:10 a.m.
A woman in labor arrived at the ER. I calmly (at least I hope it was calmly) walk her upstairs to the Labor and Delivery. Later, I found out that she delivered a healthy baby girl!

10:30 a.m.
A patient arrived with heart attack symptoms, so we went into quick action. Our “door-to-balloon time” is a measure of how quickly we mobilize our heart attack team to get a patient to the catheterization lab (cath lab) as quickly as possible. Our goal is 60 minutes or less from the time they arrive to the time the cath lab intervenes. This patient made it to the cath lab quickly; however, I wasn’t able to find out how he did. Sometimes we get a follow-up report, but other times the process is so fast that we don’t hear back. He was in good hands, though, that I know.

11:15 a.m.
Two more motorcycle-accident patients arrive via ambulance. Not even noon yet!

12:15 p.m.
Care Flight brought in a patient from outside the area. The patient was involved in a car accident. Being the only local trauma center, we often get injured patients from outlying areas.

1 p.m.
We now have five more motorcycle-accident patients, and by the end of the day there will be 13.

4 p.m.
I finally grab lunch – in the ER, you’ve gotta grab it and eat when you can!

7 p.m.
I’m done! My shift is over after I give a report to the oncoming charge nurse, who is ready to control traffic throughout the night.

8 p.m.
The kids are home, homework is done and everyone is fed (sigh!). My friend (and co-worker) Jenn Allen comes over and we catch up on our “Grey’s Anatomy.” There’s lots of giggling! It’s a fun show, but nothing like our reality. Later, I head to bed and will be back for more tomorrow!


  1. I suggest you reprint this and have it available for patrons to read as they wait for the ER. Unfortunately, patients have no idea what is going on behind the scenes and how the "players and their acts" are constantly changing as are the priorities of each of those "players". This is an excellent article that does allow them to "peek" behind those doors. The staff does a great job of making all the chaos look as if it is "nothing" to get through their shift, but those of us who get to work with them, appreciate that and know there is always much more going on than they share or burden us with.Thank you to all who work the ER from those who clean the room, to those who welcome the patients and help them complete the paperwork to all those gifted hands that touch us as we navigate through the ER and home or "upstairs" to the continued gifted hands of RENOWN!