How Can I Become an Emergency Medicine Doctor?

Explore the career requirements for emergency medicine doctors. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Fire & Emergency Services degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Emergency Medicine Doctor?

Emergency medical doctors are physicians that specialize in emergency medicine. Most often, they provide acute care for patients with urgent conditions, usually in the emergency department of a hospital or academic medical center. Some also choose careers in research, public health or hospital administration. In addition, it is possible for emergency medicine doctors to specialize in a particular subspecialty of interest, such as pediatric emergency medicine, toxicology, hyperbaric medicine or sports medicine. This can also affect the setting in which they work.

The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required M.D. or D.O.
Key Responsibilities Examine and evaluate patients who present with emergency medical needs
Order tests and analyze results
Develop/recommend treatment plan
Keep accurate and complete records
Licensure/Certification Required Licensure required, specifications vary by state
Training Required 3-8 year residency, fellowship for specialization
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 14%*
Average Salary (2015) $197,700*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Kind of Education Do I Need to Be an Emergency Medicine Doctor?

Emergency medical doctors are physicians who specialize in emergency medicine. You can begin your pursuit of a career in this field by earning a 4-year bachelor's degree. To meet the prerequisites for admission to medical school programs, you'll need to take courses in physics, chemistry and biology. Medical programs are highly selective, so you should focus on developing a strong academic record and participating in extracurricular activities.

The medical school admissions process is lengthy and thorough. You'll be required to submit academic transcripts, a personal statement, scores from the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and letters of recommendation. In addition, you may be required to interview with admissions representatives.

The majority of medical schools award the Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), a 4-year degree. The first two years of your course of study in these programs will include basic science courses, such as anatomy, biochemistry, pharmacology, pathology and microbiology. During your final two years, you'll complete clinical rotations in different areas of medicine, such as internal medicine, psychiatry, pediatrics and surgery. As an alternative to M.D. programs, some schools offer Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) programs, which place more emphasis on preventative and holistic medicine.

Can I Practice Medicine Immediately After Medical School?

Before you may practice medicine, it is required by every state and U.S. territory that you be licensed as a physician. You'll need to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) as an M.D., or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam (COMLEX) as a D.O. You'll also need to adhere to the licensing regulations of the state in which you want to work.

In addition, you'll need to complete postgraduate training, known as a residency. Emergency medical residencies typically last three years and emphasize trauma skills, such as assessing and stabilizing injured patients. You'll complete rotations in different areas of emergency medicine, such as surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, orthopedic procedures, intensive care and anesthesia. Part of your training may also include attending conferences, helping to train paramedics and participating in a journal club.

What Kind of Skills Do I Need?

The field of emergency medicine can be highly stressful, visceral and at times, jarring. You should have the ability to weather stress; it is not uncommon for emergency room physicians to see patients with serious or life-threatening injuries. The ability to think on your feet and work quickly under rigorous time constraints can be useful.

What Will My Work Be Like?

Working in an emergency room, you'll see a wide variety of cases. You may see children with minor injuries, or you may see individuals with serious wounds sustained in automobile collisions. Emergency room physicians frequently work long and irregular hours. You'll potentially be exposed to disturbing injuries that may not respond to care. However, you'll be integral to providing necessary, and at times life-saving, care to critically ill or injured individuals.

What Are Some Alternative Related Careers?

Aside from emergency medicine, there are many other specialization options for physicians. For example, doctors may train to work as surgeons, anesthesiologists, pathologists, neurologists, psychiatrists or family doctors. Another option for those who are interested in emergency career is a job as an Emergency Nurse Practitioner. These professionals work alongside emergency care doctors and other members of an acute care team. Although they do not need an M.D. degree, nurse practitioners must have a master's degree in their specialty area and pass a licensure exam.

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