The word, “triage” comes from the French, “trier,” meaning ‘to sort.’ It is a system used by emergency medical personnel to ration physical resources during an emergency situation. Triage nurses usually are found at accident scenes, a battlefield, in bombing events and at the emergency room of a local hospital. Triage nurses treat everything from perceived emergencies to terminal cases, but they’re always found in environments where help is needed with acute and critical care.

Duties of a Triage Nurse

Triage nurses are vital to any emergency situation, as they help to monitor a patient’s needs to determine if that patient requires immediate care or if he or she can wait while others are being treated. This type of responsibility places a patient’s life in the triage nurse’s hands. Therefore, the triage nurse must be skilled in various critical care situations, including cardiac care, orthopedic care and even some familiarity with obstetrics. They must be familiar with symptoms that indicate abdominal complaints as well as be able to deal with mass casualty incidents that include various physical wounds. Additionally, triage nurses need to follow set guidelines, maintain and update documents and important papers, communicate with providers, pharmacists, nurses, and CMAs while putting the patient first.

The nurse who chooses to work with telephone triage does all of the above, but without the advantage of visual inspection or face-to-face interaction. Telephone triage nurses must rely on communication skills, knowledge of disease processes, and normal growth and development for all age groups in order to ascertain an accurate understanding of the client’s symptoms. With that said, triage nurses do not diagnose clients over the phone. Instead, the goal of the telephone triage nurse is to determine the severity of the caller’s complaint through a series of algorithms developed by a coordinated effort of physicians and nurses. At that point, the telephone triage nurse can direct the patient to the appropriate emergency service.

Related Types of Nurses

Similar nursing careers to triage nursing include cardiac or military nursing. Because triage nurses become skilled with responding to emergency situations and with delegating patients to appropriate emergency services, these nurses may find that case management or supervisory roles come naturally. These jobs, which would move the triage nurse up the ladder to promotions that would mean more money, often require more education as well. Other similar work might include critical care nursing, emergency care, flight/transport nurse, plastic surgery nursing, domestic violence nursing and forensic nursing.

Triage Nursing Degrees

Registered nurses at all educational levels are able to do triage. Experience is the major requirement, but there are classes available to enhance triage skills. Seminars are offered nationally by experts within the telephone triage field as well. Certification usually is not required for working as a triage nurse; however, many employers see certification as a reflection of competency and professionalism that then increases the appeal of a job candidate. The National Certification Corporation now offers certification in Telephone Triage. As with most other certifications, there are certain eligibility requirements, such as current licensure, 2000 hours of specialty experience, and recent employment in the specialty.