ER Doctor Requirements: Info for Aspiring Emergency Room Doctors

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an emergency room doctor. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties, licensure and certification to find out if this is the career for you.

Essential Information

Emergency room doctors provide medical treatment in life-threatening situations. Becoming an ER doctor is a long and challenging task that requires completion of undergraduate prerequisite courses, medical school, and a residency. While an undergraduate degree is not required, the vast majority of matriculating medical students have bachelor's degrees.

Required Education Undergraduate prerequisite courses (2-4 years)
Medical school (4 years)
Emergency Medicine residency
Licensure & Certification State medical license required
Board certification in emergency medicine available
Other Requirements Continuing Medical Education (CME) credit to maintain license and board certification after residency
DEA registration to prescribe controlled substances
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022) 18% (higher than average for all occupations)*
Median Salary (2014) $200,941 annually**

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

Required Steps to Becoming an ER Doctor

Step One: Complete an Undergraduate Degree

Many aspiring ER doctors begin their path to becoming board certified physicians by completing pre-med studies as undergrads. A pre-med undergraduate degree is by no means the only acceptable path to medical school. Medical school applicants are a diverse group with a variety of majors, such as English, psychology and history, as well as biology and chemistry.

All applicants must meet the prerequisites established by medical schools. These typically include completion of coursework in biology, organic chemistry, biochemistry, physics and mathematics. In addition, advanced life science courses are generally recommended and help applicants perform better on another med school requirement, the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT).

Step Two: Enter Medical School

Because medical school admissions are keenly competitive, strong performance on the MCAT is a must. Chemistry, biology, organic chemistry and physics are covered in this rigorous, daylong exam. Applicants who have completed prerequisite coursework, have earned a high GPA, can produce strong letters of recommendation and have achieved outstanding MCAT scores have a fighting chance of getting into a respected medical school.

During their four years of medical studies, medical students will not choose a major but instead undertake a challenging course of study that provides a foundation of medical knowledge as well as exposure to several kinds of medical practice. Rotations through all the departments in a hospital begin in the third year, which provide the needed experience that allows medical students to select an area of specialization for their residency.

Step Three: Get Matched with an ER Residency

Matching is the term used for the process that begins in the last year of medical school for finding a placement in a paid post-graduate residency program in which a Doctor of Medicine (MD) becomes an ER doctor. Some ER residencies require that residents serve a preliminary year in a less hectic medical environment and gradually acquire the confidence and skills necessary to work in the ER. In other programs, residents go to work directly in the ER under the supervision of experienced ER doctors. During the three or four year program, residents learn to respond to a wide variety of acute medical issues and stabilize patients for release or for further treatment by a specialist.

Step Four: Become Board Certified

In addition to becoming licensed to practice medicine, physicians can become board certified in their area of specialization after completing their residency, working as an ER doctor for a year or continuing to a subspecialty fellowship program and passing strenuous examinations.

Licensure, which is mandatory, is earned by passing a national qualification exam generally after completion of medical school. Board certification demonstrates that a physician has met the minimum requirements to practice medicine by establishing expertise. Two certifying boards for emergency medicine are the American Osteopathic Board of Emergency Medicine (AOBEM) and the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS).

Step Five: Engage in Continuous Professional Development

Regular continuing education is required by both the American Osteopathic Board of Emergency Medicine (AOBEM) and the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) for maintenance of board certification. The ABMS, www.abms.org, has adopted a model used to measure continuous professional development according to 'six core competencies for quality patient care,' which include medical knowledge and practice-based learning.

Lifelong learning opportunities are determined by each specialty member board. Typically, medical schools feature a department of continuing medical education with frequent course offerings in each specialty, such as emergency medicine, that address the key areas of care in this model.

Finally, many ER doctors complete fellowships of one or two years' duration to gain expertise in a subspecialty, such as medical toxicology, pediatric emergency medicine or sports medicine, which also carry similar board certification and maintenance requirements.

Career and Salary Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted an overall 18% increase in employment of physicians and surgeons over the 2012-2022 decade. The aging baby boomer population is part of the reason for this faster-than-average growth. A survey by PayScale.com in December 2014 found the median salary of ER doctors to be $200,941 per year, with the top-paid 10% making over $310,000.

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