Becoming a Burn Care Nurse: Job Description & Salary Info

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A burn care nurse's median annual salary is around $67,000, but is it worth the education and licensing requirements? Read real job descriptions, get salary information and obtain the truth about the career outlook to decide if becoming a burn care nurse is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Burn Care Nursing

Burn care nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who work in the burn care or intensive care units at hospitals and other healthcare facilities. By looking at the pros and cons of the career, you can better determine if becoming a burn care nurse is a good option for you.

PROS of Burn Care Nurse Careers
Very good pay rates ($67,000 approximate median annual salary)*
Strong career prospects (19% job growth from 2012-22)*
Can enter this field with only 2-3 years of postsecondary education*
Good career advancement opportunities (advanced practice critical care nursing positions are available)**
Can work as part of a team of burn treatment specialists*
Several options for specialization within the field of critical care nursing**

CONS of Burn Care Nurse Careers
Witness to some very challenging patient situations*
Possibility of long, irregular work hours*
Best job opportunities may require advanced education*
Licensure is mandatory for burn nurses*
Experience in burn care is necessary for many job opportunities***

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, ***Monster.com job postings from 2012.

Essential Career Info

Job Description

Burn care nurses assist patients who are burned and in some cases have suffered other types of trauma. While the level of care they provide in burn or intensive care units will vary, typically burn care nurses must be skilled in a variety of nursing areas. They use equipment to observe, monitor and, in some cases, ventilate their patients.

Without question, the work of a burn care nurse can be challenging, both emotionally and otherwise. In some instances, patient burns may be so severe that end of life treatment and activity may occur. It may be difficult not to keep thinking about your job when the workday ends, because you provide care to patients in some awful and painful predicaments. Still, this is a field that can be rewarding when helping patients to recover from severe burns.

Career Prospects and Salary Information

Burn care nurses, as part of the overall population of RNs, have excellent career prospects according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), with RN careers expected to grow by 19% from 2012-2022 (www.bls.gov). This is faster than the growth of most other careers. Burn care nurses will primarily work in BCUs (burn care units) or ICUs (intensive care units) at hospitals and other outpatient facilities. Since burn care nurses are likely to work within ICUs or BCUs, their locations for employment may be more limited than for RNs as a whole, according to the most recent data available.

The BLS notes that registered nurses earned an average salary around $70,000 annually in May 2014. The top 10% of all RNs earned about $99,000 or more per year. Consider the possible bonuses and other benefits that employers may be doling out, and this could be a promising career opportunity for willing and able applicants.

Requirements

Education and Licensure

Burn care nurses must complete an approved, formal nursing program in order to enter the career field. This is usually achieved in the form of an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program, which is offered at community colleges or technical schools. These programs, which can be completed in 2-3 years, usually combine hands-on learning with traditional classroom studies. Whether or not additional training or experience is required before starting to nurse in a burn unit is dependent on the unit and employer. Some units hire RNs and train them. In other cases, new hires may learn in other nursing areas before moving to the BCU or ICU. Other units may require that applicants have ICU experience or specialized certification before being considered.

Nursing program graduates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to become licensed as RNs; the exam is offered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). Most states require the completion of continuing education courses in order to renew a nursing license. It's also worth noting that some states may have additional licensing requirements, according to the BLS. The NCSBN operates a license verification program that you may be eligible for if you plan to move to a different state; however, not all states participate in this program.

Useful Skills

Burn care nurses should be compassionate and comfortable establishing relationships with patients. They should be able to think critically and be detail-oriented, especially when making sure patients get appropriate treatments. Patience and strong communication skills could also be helpful.

What Employers Desire

Experience is needed in order to thrive in a BCU and provide the best care possible to patients, who are often times in dire need of specific medical treatment. Some employers require burn care nurses to acquire specific certification beyond an RN license. Certifications could include Basic Life Support and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support. Below are some examples of job postings available during April 2012:

  • A burn care nurse was needed in an ICU/BCU in Minnesota for a full-time position at night with rotating weekends. Benefits included a 401k, free continuing education and possible travel options. Current licensing and ICU experience was requested.
  • In a Georgia burn unit, burn care RNs were needed with 2-5 years of experience. The positions were short term, 4-13 week contracts. This unit required that applicants have basic and advanced life support certification.
  • A medical center in California looked for a burn care RN for the burn ICU. Duties included mentoring students and others new to the unit. A Bachelor of Science in Nursing was preferred.
  • In New York, burn care nurses were needed in ICU and critical care units. Applicants needed at least two years of experience. A minimum of an Associate Degree in Nursing and an RN license were required.

How to Stand Out

Get Certified

To stand out among other burn care nurses, you might consider obtaining special certifications and training. While these certifications and courses are usually voluntary, earning one or more could help you to make a strong impression in the job market. Some of these certifications and courses include:

  • CCRN - Certification for Adult, Pediatric and Neonatal Critical Care Nurses, which is offered by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)
  • PALS - Pediatric Advanced Life Support Certification
  • ABLS - Advanced Burn Life Support, a course offered by the American Burn Association (ABA)
  • TNCC - Trauma Nursing Core Course, offered by the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA)

Other Options

Students may also want to consider a few other options to gain traction in the job market. Becoming a member of one of the aforementioned professional organizations, such as the ENA, may be of assistance. Additionally, though not all jobs will require it, obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) might be a wise choice to stand out. The BLS reports that earning a bachelor's degree can improve your job prospects. Additionally, some employers request that their candidates have a BSN.

Career Alternatives

Emergency Medical Technician

If you want to help patients but aren't so interested in nursing, you have other options. Perhaps you might consider becoming an emergency medical technician (EMT). EMTs treat patients in trauma and other healthcare emergencies, such as car accident victims or a person having a heart attack at his home. EMTs also provide transport of patients to hospitals or to and from facilities that can provide specialized healthcare. EMT training can take from 100 to 1,000 hours, depending on the level. A license is required to work in this field. The career field is growing at a rapid-fire rate of 33% from 2010-2020, according to the BLS, so opportunities are expected to be plentiful. The downsides to the field include potentially erratic work hours and generally low pay; the career averaged around $34,000 per year as of May 2011, the BLS reported.

Dental Hygienist

Turning in a different direction, you might be interested in becoming a dental hygienist. Career opportunities are booming, with the field expected to grow by 38% from 2010-2020, according to BLS data. The education needed to enter the field is roughly the same, time-wise, as that of RNs, with an associate's degree and licensure being the standard requirements. Also, the BLS reports that dental hygienists earned similar salaries, making $70,000 per year on average as of May 2011. Hygienists help care for patients' teeth and gums. They work in clinics or dental offices and have the benefit of helping people to improve their teeth, bite and, ultimately, their smiles. The downsides to the career can include routinely working in patients' mouths and potentially needing to rotate where you work, because some doctors often only need hygienists on a part-time basis.

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Regent University

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