What to expect at the emergency department (ED) when your child is sick or injured

The Emergency Department (ED) is a place where people go for immediate care.

Visiting the ED can be scary and overwhelming, especially when you don’t know what to expect. We hope this infographic helps reduce stress and helps you prepare.


When you walk through the doors of an emergency department, you will see a waiting room, triage station and a registration area. Your first stop will be at the triage station. This will help the nurse understand how sick your child is.


Wait in line, and a nurse will call you forward to the triage station. You will be asked about your child’s symptoms and why you have brought your child to the ED. The nurse may ask for both your health card and your child’s health card. The nurse will also check your child’s weight and vital signs, including heart rate, breathing rate, temperature and oxygen saturation levels.

There are several ways to take your child’s temperature, depending on their age

Weighing your child helps doctors know how much medication to give, if needed

Oxygen saturation is the amount of oxygen in your child’s blood

Your child must be registered before they can receive care.

After triage, you will be told to go to the registration desk. You will be asked again for both your own and your child’s health cards. Your child’s information will be entered into the hospital system. They will then be given a wristband and you will be asked to wait in the waiting room.

Waiting Room

The amount of time you wait to see a health care provider usually depends on your child’s symptoms.

Usually a child with more severe symptoms will be seen first. Wait times also depend on how busy the ED is. You may only wait for 15 minutes or you may wait for several hours. Walking around the hallways or playing with medical equipment may put your child at risk of picking up an infection in the ED. Please stay in the waiting area that has been assigned to you. If you feel your child’s condition has changed while you are waiting, let the triage nurse know.

Tips to make the wait easier:

      • Bring some books for your child to read or colour
      • Some waiting rooms have a play area or a fish tank
      • Your child might like watching the TVs in the waiting room
      • Listening to music with headphones can also help pass the time
Seeing health care providers

Your child’s name will be called when a health care provider is ready to see them. 

You and your child will be brought to a room where your child will be assessed. Some tests may be done before your child is diagnosed or treated. You may be asked for a list of medications your child takes, and a list of allergies your child has. It’s a good idea to have these lists ready before you see a health care provider.

Health care professionals are people who provide medical care. There are usually many health care professionals involved, such as nurses, respiratory therapists, technicians and doctors. If you are at a teaching hospital, students and residents may also be involved in providing care.

  • Nurses are health care professionals who work to help your child get better. They provide direct care and treatment, and support patients throughout their visit.
  • Respiratory therapists are specialized health care professionals who provide care for children with heart and lung conditions.
  • Technicians help with diagnostic tests such as blood tests, x-rays, and other imaging tests.
  • Doctors work with other health care providers to provide direct care to children. They diagnose your child, interpret test results, prescribe treatment, and provide follow up.
Discharge (leaving the ED)

Being discharged (leaving) from the ED is different for each child. Some children may not need treatment, and will be sent home after being assessed. Some children may be treated and then reassessed before being sent home. Reassessing your child after treatment may take time, but it helps make sure they are well enough to leave. Your child may also be prescribed medication to be taken at home. Some children may have to wait in the waiting room for test results. Some children may be admitted to the hospital so that health care providers can continue treating and monitoring their health.

Going home

Waiting for results

Admitted to hospital

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This infographic was brought to you by ECHO, ARCHE & TREKK​

Updated in 2023 to remove Covid-19 requirements.

© ECHO Research and ARCHE, 2020. This resource may not be modified, reproduced or distributed without prior written consent of ECHO Research and ARCHE. Contact shannon.scott@ualberta.ca

This research was funded by the generous support of the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation through the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute.

Physical treatments can include physiotherapy, prescribed exercise plans, strengthening exercises, massage, and more. 

Psychological treatments can include counselling or talk therapy, supportive therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy, mediation, and more. They can be provided on a one-on-one basis or in a group setting. 


The information contained in the video/multimedia content (the “Multimedia”) is provided on an “as is” basis and is offered for general information and educational purposes only; it is not offered as and does not constitute professional advice. There is no guarantee about the accuracy, applicability, fitness or completeness of the information found in the Multimedia. This information is provided without warranty of any kind, and the University of Alberta, its agents, employees, and students disclaim responsibility to any party for any loss or damage of any kind that may arise directly or indirectly as a result of the use of or reliance on the information contained in the Multimedia.

These resources may not be modified, reproduced or distributed without prior written consent of ECHO Research. Contact shannon.scott@ualberta.ca.