What is a Triage Nurse?

A triage nurse is a registered nurse who works in an emergency or urgent care setting.

These medical specialists assess patients’ medical conditions and prioritize medical care based on their illness or injury severity.

They also specify the level of care patients require to reduce waiting times, improve patient flow, and enhance hospital performance.

In some cases, patients with more severe conditions receive medical care sooner than patients with less severe ailments.

It ensures everyone receives adequate care by first addressing illness or injury among those with the most significant medical conditions.

What Do Triage Nurses Do?

Triage nurses are one of the first medical professionals patients see when they arrive in an emergency or urgent care.

These medical professionals prioritize patients by determining their injury or illness and the level of severity of their condition.

Triage nurses work in large-scale medical situations to ensure everyone receives timely care based on health status.

For instance, they provide care during mass injuries like an earthquake or in cases where many injuries occurred from a vehicular accident.

As a result, triage nurses work in hospitals or healthcare facilities, functioning as the first nurse’s patients see when requiring immediate care.

The Triage nurse examines a patient’s medical records and history, takes vital signs, monitors, and assesses the patient’s condition.

It allows them to quickly determine their patient’s status and the severity of their condition.

They also sort out which ailments the patient is likely suffering from and determine their need for immediate medical intervention.

The information allows them to decide which treatment and healthcare specialist the patient needs to receive adequate medical care.

Telephone Triage Responsibilities

Telephone triage nurses use telephones, video chat, online messaging, and other online systems to address patient needs offsite.

They assist patients who call the hospital, call center, or healthcare facility because of medical concerns.

In these cases, telephone triage nurses answer questions, assess patients’ ailments, and provide treatment advice.

Triage nurses may direct patients to a medical specialist if they require more advanced care but don’t need a hospital visit.

Telephone triage nurses are essential because they reduce hospital visits when patients don’t require hospitalized medical care.

Sometimes patients have concerns or ailments they can treat at home with helpful medical advice and expertise.

Triage Nurse Medical Duties:

  • Assess patient’s medical conditions
  • Document patient conditions, medications, and treatments
  • Prioritize patient care and reassess regularly
  • Monitor patient vitals and status
  • Consult physicians and medical staff
  • Administer medications and treatments
  • Perform telephone triage/telehealth nursing

The ultimate goal of triage nursing is to assess, prioritize and route patients requiring medical care by following a triage process.

It allows them to determine the level of injury and sickness of patients, determine which ones benefit most from immediate medical care, and sort-out patients with less severe needs.

That way, medical professionals provide the highest level of care to the highest number of people possible.

What Is Triage?

Triage is sorting and prioritizing patients’ medical care based on their severity.

Triage aims to ensure all patients receive adequate care with minor medical issues and optimal outcomes.

Prioritization includes deciding which patients to evacuate/transport to a healthcare facility when transportation is limited.

It also determines prioritization for medical care and treatments when hospital staff cannot meet all patient needs simultaneously.

Medical triage is separated into immediate, urgent, and delayed care.

Triage Categories/Levels

  • Immediate care
  • Urgent care
  • Delayed care

Patients in the immediate care category receive medical care first because they require immediate life-saving treatment.

Immediate care results from severe illness/disease, injuries/trauma, medical/medication complications, and other severe conditions.

After that, patients in the urgent care category receive medical care because they need significant medical intervention.

Finally, those in the delayed category require medical care last to manage/treat their ailments.

However, they do not require immediate or urgent care, so they receive treatment after more severe cases are stabilized and managed.

Alternative Triage Levels & Color Codes

  1. Immediate/resuscitation/deceased (0 minutes) 
  2. Very urgent/emergency (10 minutes)
  3. Urgent (60 minutes)
  4. Standard/minor (120 minutes)
  5. Non-urgent/uninjured (240 minutes)

Some hospitals and healthcare systems utilize additional triage levels to manage large patient counts effectively.

In this case, hospitals utilize five triage levels and color-code them to determine the necessary immediacy of medical care.

They also provide the number of minutes medical professionals have before intervening to ensure optimal patient health.

For instance, medical specialists must act immediately to provide urgent care to level 1 patients and revive them if needed.

Below that, very urgent patients must receive medical care within 10 minutes to stabilize their condition and minimize health risks.

At the opposite end are non-urgent patients that should receive medical care within 240 minutes of arrival.

The exact triage systems used vary by hospital and healthcare system.

As a result, you must consult the local hospital to determine their triage procedures.

In an ideal world, everyone would receive adequate medical care promptly.

However, emergency disasters, mass casualties, and other large-scale events require systems and procedures to ensure optimal patient outcomes.

When patient numbers overpower hospital staff and their resources, triage systems ensure they treat patients most effectively and efficiently.

The following video explores triage color codes and numbers some healthcare facilities use to determine a patient’s triage level.

How Triage Nurses Determine Medical Severity

Determining a patient’s triage level/category depends on three factors.

It includes the severity of the injury/illness, the likelihood of survival, and available resources for managing patients’ conditions.

  • The severity of the injury/illness
  • Likelihood of survival
  • Availability of resources

Patients with the most severe injuries/illnesses requiring immediate life-saving treatment receive medical care first.

Nurses arrange prioritization from high to low risk with less severe/life-threatening conditions requiring less immediate medical care.

Technology Trends in Triage Nursing

Healthcare facilities use various systems to determine patient flow, manage health records, and identify patient triage levels and health status.

For instance, automated machines monitor patients’ health statuses allowing staff to care for high-risk patients.

Electronic health record software and emergency service indexing ensure medical records remain up to date and allow nurses to provide accurate assessments.

Besides that, patient flow software and systems monitor hospital capacity, bed availability, and patient status to expedite treatments.

Numerous patients also use virtual check-ins to expedite care and improve hospital flow before arrival.

Finally, e-triage tools provide feedback on patient conditions and priority levels, so medical specialists treat them accordingly.

Triage Technologies

  • Automated health vital tracking devices
  • Electronic health records
  • Emergency service indexing
  • Patient flow software
  • Virtual check-in

Triage Nurse Salary

The money a triage nurse makes varies depending on several factors.

It includes the state the nurse works in, their education level, and their job responsibilities.

It also includes financial/salary agreements between the nurse and the healthcare organization.

According to Salary.com, the average annual salary triage nurse can expect to make in the United States is $66,441.

However,  the lower 10% of income earners make $44,000, and the upper 10% earn around $100,00 per year.

Salary also varies depending on whether the nurse works on-site or virtually as a telephone triage nurse.

Please keep in mind that these are just estimates.

Some triage nurses make significantly more under the right circumstances.

For instance, they make more money working in a high-paying state and acquiring overtime, night, weekend, and holiday shifts.

However, the cost of living in some states may nullify some financial advantages compared to lower-cost, lower-paying states.

Career Outlook and Opportunities

The nursing field is in high demand and is expected to grow over the next decade.

Moreover, the nursing shortage and the number of nurses retiring further increase the demand for qualified medical professionals.

According to USAHS, up to 1.2 million nursing jobs will need to be filled by 2030.

As a result, hospitals and healthcare facilities will presumably offer more career opportunities for new and existing registered nurses.

It includes increased job stability over time, higher wages, and better benefits to encourage nurses to work for them.

The nursing shortage affects the entire nursing industry and reduces patient care due to a lack of medical professionals.

However, it provides better career opportunities and job stability for anyone interested in triage nursing.

How To Become A Triage Nurse

Becoming a triage nurse requires experience managing patients with various severe illnesses, diseases, and injuries.

Those who work in this field must assess their condition and determine their need for immediate medical care.

Because triage nurses are in charge of determining patients’ medical needs, they must understand the medical field and properly diagnose patients’ ailments.

Those interested in working as triage nurses must go through a process to earn their certification and work in triage nursing.

Below is a simple step-by-step guide to becoming a triage nurse.

1. Apply for Nursing School

The first step toward becoming a triage nurse is to obtain a GED or Diploma and apply to a college/university offering a nurse program.

Some students attend community college to complete nursing prerequisites and transfer credits to an accredited nursing program.

However, students must ensure the nursing program accepts transfer credits before picking a community college or applying to that nursing program.

Most nursing schools offer two standard programs, including the 2-year ADN (associates) and 4-year BSN (bachelor’s) degrees.

The two-year program provides the fastest route to becoming a registered nurse.

Many hospitals and healthcare facilities prefer or require registered nurses with a BSN, especially in emergency care settings.

Once you gain acceptance to a qualified college/university, you can move to the next step.

2. Complete Nursing School

The next step you’ll need to complete is to pass all of the institution’s nursing school prerequisites.

You must also maintain the required GPA to get accepted into the nursing program.

Nursing programs are very competitive, and institutions use GPA scores to determine eligibility and likelihood of success.

Your best option for determining what you need to do is to speak with a guidance counselor at that school.

They’ll advise you regarding GPA conditions, prerequisite requirements, and other nursing program expectations.

Upon completing the nursing program, you must take the national licensing exam for registered nurses to earn your license.

Finally, you must pay licensing fees, pass a background check, and complete state requirements to begin work as a registered nurse.

3. Develop experience as a Registered Nurse

Next, you’ll want to find a job at a hospital or healthcare facility.

That way, you can develop your knowledge, training, and experience as a registered nurse.

If your hospital or healthcare facility has an emergency department or ICU, try to obtain work in that department.

Alternatively, you can volunteer for work when you have time to gain emergency care/ICU experience.

Working in these departments helps you understand the processes used to assess and facilitate patients suffering from ailments.

Over time you’ll learn how triage nurses manage duties and prioritize patients who require medical attention.

The more experience you acquire, the easier it will be to get certified as a triage nurse and find a job upon completing your certification.

4. Obtain Triage Nurse Related Certifications

Besides gaining experience, you’ll want to earn triage nurse-related certifications.

Completing these certifications ensures adequate triage training and will help you land a job more efficiently.

You can also take the Emergency Nurses Association triage program if you require more specialized training.

You’ll want to sit down and speak with the human resources department at your hospital or healthcare facility.

They’ll assist you with finding the appropriate certifications to meet the requirements to become a triage nurse.

They also provide information on selecting and taking the correct emergency nursing triage program.

Upon completing the certification or triage program, you’ll earn your credentials to begin working as a triage nurse.

Triage Nurse-Related Certifications

  • Advanced Cardiac Life Support
  • Ambulatory Care Nursing
  • Emergency Room Nurse Certification
  • Trauma Certified Registered Nurse

The History Of Triage Care

The word triage means “to sort out,” a method triage nurses use to organize and determine the priority of medical care.

Healthcare professionals determined prioritization based on the patient’s need for medical care and the available resources.

First used in war triage, nurses would observe the condition of injured soldiers and determine who needed immediate care.

They determined this by identifying who was likely to die regardless of medical care and who suffered from less severe injuries.

From there, triage nurses would sort patients out to assist doctors with minimizing casualties.

In turn, the triage process helped nurses and doctors/physicians provide adequate medical aid to as many people as possible.

There were specific ethical implications regarding the practice of triage in the past.

It’s because of using a selection process to determine a person’s immediate need for medical care based on perceived ailments.

However, triage has proven time and time again to help doctors and nurses make sure they’re helping as many people as possible.

It’s also confirmed to provide the best medical care possible in an emergency or urgent care setting. 

Triage nursing is vital when there are more patients than medical professionals to assist everyone’s medical needs promptly.

And with the development of new technologies, medications, treatments, and medical practices, triage nursing significantly reduces severe injuries, illnesses, and death.