Unique nursing jobs: telephone triage nursing

November 14, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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A pre-nursing student with her mentor When you think about working as a nurse, you probably think about traditional nursing jobs, such as working in the emergency room or the intensive care unit. But there are many unique nursing jobs you may not be familiar with. One option for nurses who are looking for something different is telephone triage nursing.

In the hospital, triage nurses assess patients as they come into the facility to determine who needs immediate care. A full medical exam is not part of the triage process. Instead, nurses perform a quick assessment to gather information. The process allows the sickest patients to be treated first.


Telephone triage nursing responsibilities

Telephone triage nursing is similar, except it is performed over the phone. When patients call, a nurse may answer the patients’ health questions and point them in the right direction for further medical care. Nurses may ask questions about the patient’s symptoms, such as the duration and intensity, which helps determine the urgency and type of medical problem. In addition, telephone triage nurses may also provide patient education and advice for self-care at home. 

It is important to understand, telephone triage nurses do not diagnose a patient’s medical condition over the phone. Their role is to gather information to help the patient understand what further care they need. For instance, a patient may call about symptoms that may indicate a heart attack, but could be mistaken for heartburn. A telephone triage nurse can be a valuable resource for a patient who is unsure of what to do.    


Skills and training needed to be a telephone triage nurse

Telephone triage nurses are almost always registered nurses with at least a few years of experience working in a healthcare facility. Nurses must graduate from an accredited registered nursing program, which results in either an associate or bachelor’s degree. Passing the licensing exam is the next step to work as a nurse.

Experience in any patient care area is helpful, but working in the emergency room may be a great choice. Once you gain a few years of experience, you are ready to look for a job in telephone triage nursing. 

Jobs are often found in dedicated telephone triage service centers, which are affiliated with specific medical centers. Telephone triage nurses may also find jobs in a physician’s office, crisis intervention hotlines and poison control centers.

If working as a telephone triage nurse sounds interesting, it is helpful to have certain skills. As would be expected, you must have good communication and interpersonal skills. You also have to have excellent assessment skills and good judgment. A large part of the job is assessing the situation and determining the most appropriate step for the patient to take. It is also helpful if telephone triage nurses have strong computer skills, be multilingual and work well independently. 

Nurses may need to handle a high call volume. Additionally, calls may sometimes be related to life and death situations. Telephone triage nurses must be able to work well under pressure and stay calm in stressful situations.  

Working in a fast-paced environment where you only have contact with patients over the phone may not be for everyone. But if you are looking for something unique, where every day is different, telephone triage nursing may be worth a try.