Triage nursing falls into two categories. Face-to-face triage nurses evaluate patients in the emergency room or walk-ins at a medical clinic. Telephonic triage nurses interact with patients on the telephone. Both require good assessment and critical thinking skills when interacting with patients in potentially life-threatening situations.
Nurse triage positions listed in May 2010 on monster.com revealed four of six employers were seeking a registered nurse (RN). Only one employer required a bachelor's degree and another was willing to hire an LPN (licensed practical nurse). An LPN holds a one-year degree from a college or vocational school. The American Nurses Association(ANA) describes a registered nurse as one who has completed a two-year associate degree or a three-year diploma program. A BSN (bachelor's of science in nursing) is an advanced four-year nursing degree. All registered nurses must pass a state RN licensing examination called the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).
Certification is widely available. The American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing (AAACN) offers Telehealth Nursing Practice Core Course (TNPCC) for nursing staff. Accredited by a subsidiary of the American Nurses Assocation, continuing education for Telephone Triage can be found on NURSINGCEU.com. Before spending time and money on certification, check out positions in your area to find out if it is required. Former nurse triage experience can be a substitute for certification.
Face-to-face triage nurses gather symptoms, obtain vital signs and physical exam findings. Telephonic triage nurses must be adept at listening to patients explain their symptoms and pick up on any auditory cues. Good communication, assessment and critical thinking skills are important when interacting with patients. Both types of nurses must judge whether the patient should be given home care advice, a medical office appointment or routed to the emergency department.
Most employers require clinical experience. Triage nurses who work in a paediatric setting will most likely need paediatric experience. Adult care will be required when working in family practice and cardiac care if performing triage for cardiology. Nurses who have a minimum of two years of experience in the related field are more likely to be hired. Some companies require previous triage experience but this may be waived if the nurse has extensive clinical or emergency department experience.
There are many duties triage nurses may be asked to perform. If working in a busy paediatric or family clinic, triage nurses may be asked to assist with patient care or make callbacks to patients. Strong computer skills are essential for proper documentation. Most offices use computer software protocols or standards that guide decision-making. Patient information is typed into the computer and matched to specific guidelines for which advice is given. Online scheduling of patient appointments is usually done by the triage nurse.
Triage nursing is different from other types of nursing. Triage nurses make decisions using sound nursing judgment and health care standards adopted by the company or medical clinic. The nurse must be compassionate, patient and knowledgeable about disease processes. Pros for triage nursing include no heavy lifting, flexible hours and sometimes working from home. Cons include lack of patient contact, limited contact with other staff members, large amounts of paperwork, computer data entry and sitting for long periods of time.
Future of Triage Nursing
With health care reform comes opportunity. When more patients seek medical care, more nurses will be required to care for them. That means sorting through who needs to be seen now and who can wait. A perfect job for the triage nurse to help a medical office or hospital run more smoothly.