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Life in the ER

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For an ER nurse, work is never boring. One thing Paul Rozovics, a registered nurse at the emergency room at Christ Advocate Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill., can promise about his job is that dull moments are few and far between. The hospital is the only trauma center servicing Northwest Indiana and Southwest Chicagoland, and Rozovics says he sees plenty of ER-style action. "One day you might have a patient with a gunshot wound," he says, noting that the next person through the door might be a child with a broken arm or a person with chest pains.

Rozovics started his career in health care as a phlebotomist in Florida where he drew blood for lab work. "I was able to transfer down to the emergency room and work as an ER tech and it was then that I decided that I really loved emergency medicine and wanted to be a nurse," he says. Rozovics moved to Chicago to earn a nursing degree and has been at Christ Adovcate, a bustling level one trauma center, since 2007.

ER nurses are on the front lines. Rozovics manages patient care on a variety of different levels including basics like taking temperatures and blood pressure, but also administering shots, pulling catheters and giving medication. "As they say, a doctor prescribes and a nurse provides," says Rozovics. "That's absolutely true."

Like most nurses, ER or otherwise, Rozovics is scheduled for three 12-hour shifts per week; he currently works 11am to 11pm. "The great thing about working three 12-hours shifts is that there's a lot of freedom in planning your schedule," he says, noting that he can bundle shifts together at the beginning of one week and the end of the next in order to give himself six or seven days off in the middle.

At the start of each day, he and his co-workers have a pre-huddle with the charge nurse, the person who handles the flow of the emergency room. Each nurse is assigned to either general care -- where a patient might be complaining of flu symptoms or abdominal pain -- or critical care, a unit that includes life-threatening illnesses such as gunshot wounds, car accidents, heart attacks and strokes. The patient-to-nurse ratio is usually 4 to 1. "Let's say you have two patients and someone comes in complaining of chest pains," says Rozovics. "The charge nurse might say, 'Can you pick up another patient?' Most of the time you don't refuse. Teamwork is very important in the ER."

It can be intense. Rozovics says he's in constant motion as he tries to care for four patients simultaneously while keeping abreast of the attending physician's diagnosis. Although he tries to take a lunch break, the pace is sometimes too intense. Finally, not all patients make it. "If you lose a patient at the beginning of a shift and carry that around with you, it will affect the way you perform for the rest of the day," he says.

On the other hand, Rozovics says his coworkers are like family, the benefits package is competitive and he loves the variety of his daily work life and also its emotional rewards. "I was working in pediatric care with a kid who had a small laceration on his forehead," he says. "He was very scared and needed me to reassure him. When it was all over the boy came up and gave me a hug. That makes you feel really good inside."

Last Updated: 17/04/2012 - 6:23 PM

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