Emergency Room Doctor: Salary and Career Facts

Research what it takes to become an emergency room doctor. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you.

What Does an Emergency Room Doctor Do?

An emergency room (ER) doctor provides medical care to patients with acute or life-threatening health conditions that require immediate care. ER doctors use their diagnostic skills to ascertain medical problems and make treatment decisions that will be in the best interest of the patient. They need to be able to decide between life-saving care or temporary patchwork so the patient can be sent for other specialized treatment, such as surgery. In many instances ER doctors must be able to use life-saving cardiac machines or quickly perform surgical procedures. These men and women will have to work closely with nurses and be able to meet with families to explain their findings and treatment.

The following chart gives you an overview about becoming an emergency room doctor.

Degree Required Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.)
Training Required 3- to 4-year residency
Key Skills Knowledge of a wide range of medical conditions and treatments; ability to think quickly and accurately under pressure and time constraints; physical stamina; good communication skills
Licensure and/or Certification All states require doctors to be licensed; board certification is available
Job Growth (2018-2028) 7% growth (for all physicians and surgeons)*
Median Salary (2019) $222,931 (for emergency room physicians)**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

What Education Will I Need to Become an Emergency Room Doctor?

You must work your way through medical school to earn a Medical Doctor (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. Many medical colleges offer emergency medicine programs, which include residencies and clinical practice in an actual emergency room. Here you learn how to work fast, stabilize patients, evaluate injuries or illnesses, recognize drug overdoses and deal with trauma injuries.

A three or four-year residency in an emergency room helps prepare you for a career in emergency medicine through clinical practice. Using fast decision-making skills and acting on the medical knowledge that you have acquired, you learn what it takes to treat trauma injuries. You will complete rounds and sit in on educational lectures. Many colleges also expect students to compile research for a medical paper.

How Do I Gain Licensure?

Across the nation, every state requires students to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). There are three 'steps' or examinations involved in earning your medical license. To qualify for the Step 1 and Step 2 examinations, you must be enrolled in medical program that leads to a medical degree. To qualify for the Step 3 exam, you must already have your medical degree and have passed the first two exams. The test results for these exams are provided to the state medical board, which grants medical licenses (www.usmle.org).

What Type of Work Will I Do?

Emergency room physicians work in almost every aspect of medicine. As an ER doctor, you will work in toxicology, obstetrics, sports medicine, counseling, pediatrics, geriatrics, trauma injuries, burns, neuroscience and as a general internist. You will treat patients as they first enter the emergency room, make diagnoses, refer patients to specialists and admit patients to the hospital.

What is the Career Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the overall employment growth for doctors would be 7% between 2018 and 2028 (www.bls.gov). This growth would be triggered in part by retirements during that time period.

What is the Salary for This Job?

Depending on the location and state that you plan to work for, salaries vary. According to PayScale.com, the median salary for emergency room doctors was $222,931 in 2019, with the middle 50% of emergency room doctors earning between $99,000 and $362,000.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Those interested in alternative careers can specialize in a specific medical field such as internal medicine or surgery. Other medical professions include a podiatrist who works with feet, chiropractors who work with adjusting the spine, dentists who take care of teeth, optometrists who spend time with your eyes, and veterinarians who look after your pets. These professions require a doctorate and internship and many years in school and in a hospital or clinical setting working directly with doctors and patients.