An Emergency Room (ER) doctor is a physician who works at an emergency department of a hospital to care for acutely ill patients. An ER doctor is a specialist in advanced cardiac life support, trauma care such as fractures and soft tissue injuries, and management of other life-threatening situations.
Step by step guide to becoming an ER doctor
What does an ER doctor do?
An emergency room (ER) doctor treats patients that cannot go to a primary physician. These patients are usually in the emergency room because they could not get an appointment with a regular doctor soon enough due to the severity of a wound, the time of day, or other doctors’ unavailability. Emergency room doctors must be prepared to diagnose and form treatment plans for a wide variety of illnesses and wounds, and work with limited information regarding the patient’s medical history. For example, one patient might simply have the flu and need fluids and a decongestant, while another patient might be near-death due to a work place accident. An emergency room doctor goes from exam room to exam room, diagnosing patients in order of severity.
Emergency rooms are normally open 24 hours a day, seven days per week. When a person cannot go to his or her primary physician and needs care quickly, he or she can visit an emergency room. The receptionists and nurses help patients check in and take their vitals to ensure no one is in immediate danger. These patients see an emergency room doctor in order of severity, so people with minor problems will likely wait much longer than someone with immediately life-threatening symptoms. Once taken to an exam room, a nurse looks the patient over and collects information on his or her symptoms and pain levels to relay to the ER doctor.
When the emergency room doctor moves to examine a new patient, he or she is already up-to-date on what is wrong thanks to a nurse. The doctor normally glances over the patient to confirm the information the nurse collected, then makes a diagnosis. This diagnosis might need to be confirmed with tests, like an electrocardiograph (EKG), urine culture, or blood test. In this case, the doctor orders a nurse to have the appropriate staff member perform the test, and then leaves to visit another patient while the test is underway. Once the results are back, the emergency room doctor studies them to confirm the diagnosis, then visits the patient once more to lay out a treatment plan.
Due to the nature of an emergency room, some patients arrive but never leave. ER doctors must sometimes deal with death on a daily basis. This fact coupled with long hours makes depression a common occurrence for emergency room doctors. Many doctors find the job both rewarding and exciting, however.
What kind of skills are required?
ER doctors must think fast and be able to make decisions quickly, but they also must be calm under pressure. When it’s crunch time, ER doctors must tune out all the distractions and noise around them. They must zero in on a problem and make quick, aggressive decisions.
A big part of what makes emergency medicine unique and compelling is the variety of patients and problems ER doctors care for. As en ER doctor you might see a person with terrible abdominal pain — then someone who suddenly can’t move his right arm and leg — and then a person who is seeing and talking to people who aren’t there. And all that is interspersed with people with bad colds, or twisted ankles, to give you a little breather.
ER doctors have to know just what to do, and fast, to handle a remarkably wide range of problems. Make the right decision, and you save a life. Make the wrong one, and the patient may get even sicker. And sometimes, you have just minutes to make your decision — or nature will make it for you.
Emergency medicine is the purest form of rapid diagnosis. Emergency doctors don’t get a patient with a diagnosis; instead, they get a patient with symptoms. It’s up to the doctor to make the right call.