Emergency Medicine Careers

One of the most dramatic, fast-paced, exciting environments in the healthcare industry is the emergency room (ER). In fact, several TV dramas and reality shows are based on the events that take place in real or fictitious emergency rooms. If you love split-second timing and rushing to resolve critical situations in short bursts of activity, then a career in emergency medicine may be for you.

Healthcare professionals of all education and experience levels are needed in emergency medicine, from high school grads to doctorate level physicians and everything in between.

In speaking with professionals who specialize in emergency medicine, it's evident that this type of medicine is not ideal for everyone. Some workers prefer to build relationships with patients and have some continuity of care. Emergency medicine is more episodic. (Which is also why it's great for TV!) But that's why many emergency care professionals enjoy emergency medicine. Emergency medical professionals enjoy being able to quickly treat or "fix" acute health issues and then sending the patient on his or her way. At that time, the emergency medical professional can then move on to the next patient and the next issue.

Bear in mind, however, that not all emergency patients will be cured; as an emergency medical professional, you may lose some of your patients. Therefore, you must be emotionally capable of experiencing death on the job, which can be very draining and stressful over time, particularly if you work at a very large, busy ER that sees a lot of severe trauma patients. If you think you can handle the downside of the emergency department (death) and you are interested in the fast-paced work environment, one of these careers in emergency medicine may be ideal for you.

Emergency Medical Technician and Paramedic

EMT Carrying Injured Woman on backboard

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Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics work the "front lines" of emergency medicine. Known as "first responders", these healthcare professionals are specially trained to quickly assess an emergency situation​ and stabilize and transport the victims to the hospital emergency department if needed. EMTs and paramedics are similar roles but not exactly the same.

Emergency Medicine Physician

emergency room doctor interacting with patient

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Emergency Medicine physicians are doctors who are specifically trained in handling emergent medical situations. After completing medical school, emergency physicians complete a residency training program in emergency medicine. Then they become board certified by the American Board of Emergency Medicine (ABEM).

Emergency medicine physicians work in the emergency department of a hospital. They typically work 12-hour shifts but may work 8- to â€‹10-hour shifts, in which case they would work more shifts per week. Depending on the size of the hospital and trauma level handled at a given hospital, the physician may have to deal with very severe cases of trauma, or more minor emergencies.

Emergency Room Nurse

emergency room nurse talking on phone

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An emergency room is staffed with many nurses at varying levels of responsibility, clinical authority, and education. Registered nurses and nurse practitioners are very important to the care of patients in the emergency room.

One of the key roles nurses often play in an emergency department is that of triage, the process of prioritizing patients in order of urgency or importance. Patients in the most critical condition are treated first, especially if their lives are endangered. This is one of the most important roles in the ER as it determines the patient flow and efficacy of the emergency department as a whole.

Nurses also work with physicians to help assess patients' condition by taking vital signs, asking screening questions if the patient is able to answer them, and helping to run tests.

You Might Also Like: Urgent Care

nurse talking to patient during intake at urgent care clinic

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If emergency medicine sounds a bit too intense for you, but you think you would enjoy treating patients on an episodic or acute basis, then working in urgent care may be a better fit for you. In urgent care, you wouldn't treat severe trauma or critical cases. Urgent care is for patients who need immediate attention but aren't severely ailing enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room. In other words, urgent care is similar to emergency medicine, but without all that death and dying, and other gory stuff.