For new doctors, there are few decisions as thrilling and stressful as choosing a specialty. Early in your career, you are likely to have only rough ideas of the healthcare settings you enjoy working in. However, choosing a medical specialty means choosing the setting that you plan to practice in for decades to come. Many young physicians often gravitate toward emergency medicine. Not only are emergency doctors in high demand, but emergency medicine is common on popular hospital television shows. This said the field of emergency medicine is not always as glamorous as Hollywood can make it seem. Yet, it is not uncommon to hear about emergency physicians who love their job. So you may be asking yourself, “should I become an emergency medicine physician?” The best way to answer this question is to understand what the job entails.
Things to Consider Before You Become an Emergency Medicine Physician
Overall, the process to become an emergency medicine physician is similar to that of most other specialties. You must first complete medical school and residency and become licensed. However, those wishing to specialize further into a subspecialty of emergency medicine must complete additional training. This generally involves a one to two-year fellowship consisting primarily of clinical clerkships. The subspecialties available to emergency physicians include pediatric emergency medicine, pain management, disaster medicine, medical toxicology, sports medicine, wilderness medicine, and undersea and hyperbaric medicine.
Following a fellowship, emergency physicians may consider becoming board certified in their selected subspecialty. Generally speaking, this is not a requirement. Assuming that you have passed the USMLE, you will likely be able to practice without a board certification. However, being board certified may prove to be a differentiating feature when looking for physician jobs later on. Certification does demonstrate expertise, after all. Both the American Osteopathic Board of Emergency Medicine and American Board of Medical Specialties offer these certification exams.
Emergency doctors regularly work highly variable schedules. Typically emergency medicine requires shift work. Although this does mean that you could be working for only three or four days per week, you will still be working upwards of 30 to 40 hours per week. Night shifts are common as well. While only working three or fours days a week may sound nice, this does not account for recovery time after a grueling 12 hour night shift. Additionally, emergencies do not stop for holidays or other events. There will be times when the hospital will need you even though you would rather not be working.
Before discussing the fact that many emergency physicians find their job highly fulfilling, it is only fair to mention the stress that comes with it. As an emergency doctor, you will have to multitask constantly. You will spend most of you shift seeing patients. Between these consultations, you’ll likely be flagged down by technicians, nurses, or other doctors with questions regarding patient care. As an emergency physician, there are no real breaks. Even when your shift ends, there will always be more patients waiting to be seen. While you can’t work all the time, it will always feel like there is work to be done.
Each of the items above are important when making the decision whether or not to become an emergency medicine physician, it is worth considering how fulfilling it can be as well. Emergency physicians work in a fast-paced, variable environment. Every day will be different. You will have the opportunity to treat patients from diverse backgrounds with nearly every injury or illness you can imagine. The work of an emergency medicine doctor will never be boring. Sure, you may be tired after a long shift, but you’ll likely be invigorated by the fact that you’ve been able to help so many patients.
If you think you might want to become an emergency medicine physician, there are plenty of great reasons to do so. However, as with deciding on any specialty, it’s a big decision! Be sure that you have thoughtfully considered every aspect of the job that you think you might want to do. After you have, browse through some available emergency medicine jobs to see what’s out there. You may just find that this is, after all, the career path for you.