On the Other Side of the Rails


Turning Fear Into Focus: My Experience at EN20X

Chau Le, BSN, RN, PHN

Fear of the Emergency Department

I never thought that I would one day want to work in the emergency department. While my classmates vied for preceptors in critical care, I dreamt of newborn assessments on the postpartum floor. However, after working Mother-Baby, I quickly realized that I wanted something else out of my nursing career.

Enter the world of urgent care. Attached to a maze of clinics, my urgent care looks like it takes up an entire city block. It’s no surprise that many patients, thinking we’re an emergency department, come in with symptoms of acute chest pain, stroke, and hypovolemia, among others. In just under 6 months at the job, I had started IVs, drawn troponins, thrown on cardiac monitors, rushed patients to CT scan, and administered oxygen to so many patients in acute distress that I began to wonder if, in fact, a career in the emergency department wasn’t that far out of reach.

No Med-Surg Experience, No Emergency Department

“You can’t get into the emergency department without Med-Surg experience.” That’s what online nursing forums said, what nursing instructors would preach, and what I found myself repeating whenever I thought about working in critical care. I believed that my chance for an ED position was miniscule. I decided to attend the 2020 Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) virtual conference, EN20X, anyway, thinking, “I might never get into the emergency department, but at least I can see what the world is like.”

Attending EN20X proved to be my best decision of 2020.

Attending My First ENA Conference

EN20X was the first conference I had ever attended, and I certainly didn’t know what to expect. Admittedly, I was apprehensive about how an event that is usually experienced live could be delivered online. Prepared for stilted, classroom-like lectures, I quickly learned one thing: Emergency nurses can be described in a lot of ways, but never, ever boring.

Scott DeBoer’s energetic demonstration on how to secure pediatric tubes turned a tricky skill into what felt like an arts and crafts class. Then there was “Death Row: What We Can Learn From Nurse Serial Killers,” which was presented in a fun and entertaining style by Gina Carbino, while at the same time demonstrating how much responsibility and power we have as health care workers. Finally, Terry Campbell’s “Nasty, Nice, and Nutty Nurses: Lessons Learned from Cherry, Ratchet, Hot Lips, and Flo” illustrated the parallels and discrepancies of how nurses are portrayed on television.

One concern I had about going to an ED conference as a non-emergency nurse was that I wouldn’t understand a single bit of the information presented. The first presentation I attended was Timothy Curtis’s talk on tactical nursing. When I returned from a water break, I found my mother settled comfortably in my seat and completely engrossed in the presentation. With no indication that she had any intention of leaving my chair, she just said to me, “This guy is really interesting–he’s seen some crazy stuff!” We ended up watching the presentation together. She has no health care experience, and yet she enjoyed the presentation as much as I did. Clearly the content was delivered in a manner that even the layperson could understand.

What I Got Out of EN20X as a First -Time Attendee

Since attending EN20X, I’ve had 2 ED interview invitations. I didn’t suddenly acquire med-surg experience, and urgent care didn’t somehow transform into an inpatient setting on a hospital floor. What did change was my mindset, and that’s thanks to EN20X.

These nurses who have seen it all, who are smart, gritty, and supportive–they welcomed me, a first timer, a non-emergency nurse, with open arms. If I hadn’t attended, I wouldn’t have met Katrina Ceci at the “Schmooza Palooza,” one of the virtual networking events hosted by ENA20X. Katrina walked me through the different kinds of critical care certifications and what I should obtain to be a more competitive candidate. I also wouldn’t have found Lynn Visser, who invited me to write and share my experience in this piece.

A classmate said to me at the end of our pediatric rotation, half joking: “After this experience, I’m so worried about my son that I want him to wear a helmet all the time–even when he watches TV.” As nurses, we witness the consequences of taking certain risks every day. The bleeding, the injured, and the heartbreak. These are dangerous risks. But then there’s the risk of simply jumping into the unknown, trying something new, and getting out of one’s comfort zone, which for me was joining ENA and attending EN20X.

EN20X turned “I’ll never get a job in the emergency department” into “I cannot wait to get started in the emergency department!”


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Guest Contributor

Chau Le, BSN, RN, PHN

Chau started her nursing career on the postpartum floor, and currently works at an urgent care in the Bay Area in California. In her previous life, she was a writer and digital marketer for a non-profit organization. One of the ways she stays involved with the nursing community is by providing advice and mentorship to students applying to, and currently in, nursing school. Chau became a member of ENA this year after attending the 2020 Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) virtual conference, EN20X. This was a first for her, and she looks forward to further contributing to the organization. Outside of work and mentoring, she enjoys practicing mixed martial arts, running and reading epic fantasy novels about dragons.

How to contribute

We encourage submissions from any reader who has been touched by the healthcare system. Some contributors may be involved directly in patient care and might want to share the impact a patient, family, or colleague had on them. Others may want to write about life “on the other side of the rails” …those moments when the caregiver becomes the patient…or maybe sees healthcare from the vantage point of a family member. Inquiries can be sent to [email protected]