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Become an Emergency Medicine Doctor: Education & Career Requirements

Research the requirements to become an emergency medicine doctor. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in emergency medicine.

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Should I Become an Emergency Medical Doctor?

Emergency medicine doctors typically work in trauma centers or emergency rooms within hospitals or clinics, but they also might work for aid organizations or other emergency service agencies. These workers might focus their practice on subspecialties within the emergency medicine field.

Emergency medicine is fast-paced and high stress. Some doctors, such as those who work in hospitals, are paid very well. Great joy and personal validation can be found in helping to save people's lives, but there is a risk of emotional toll, as well. Depending on the specific work environment, emergency medical doctors might be at risk for injury or illness.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Doctorate; medical degree
Degree Field Medicine
Licensure and Certification State physician's licensure is required; board specialty certification is optional
Key Skills Patience, empathy and strong communication skills, attention to detail, ability to solve problems under pressure, accounting and spreadsheet software as well as healthcare software, familiarity with ultrasound equipment, infusion pumps, surgical clamps and medical microscopes, physical stamina and dexterity
Salary (2014) $189,760 per year (Mean annual salary for physicians and surgeons)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net Online.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

The first step on the pathway to becoming an emergency medical doctor is to obtain a bachelor's degree. No specific major is required at the undergraduate level, though students may benefit from science-based programs, such as a bachelor's degree in biology, chemistry, or a similar discipline. Whatever the major, it's important to fulfill medical school prerequisites, which include courses in math, English, biology, chemistry, and physics. Since admission to medical school is competitive, students should aim for high GPAs in order to stand out from other applicants.

Success Tip:

  • Take the medical school entrance exam. As a requirement for entry into medical school, students must sit for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Most students take this exam during their third year of undergraduate college, after having completed basic science courses in biology, physics, and chemistry.

Step 2: Go to Medical School

Medical school takes four years to complete. The curriculum includes two years of didactic and laboratory coursework, covering topics like anatomy, immunology, and genetics, followed by two years of clinical experiences. The clinical years consist of clerkships in different medical specialties, including surgery and ambulatory medicine.

Step 3: Complete a Residency Program

An emergency medicine residency program typically takes three years to complete. In that time, residents complete emergency medicine rotations in various specialties of the discipline, learning under the instruction of licensed physicians. These rotations can include pediatrics, trauma surgery, and cardiology. Didactic instruction is also a part of residency training, and residents are required to attend conferences, lectures, and workshops.

Step 4: Become Licensed

All doctors are required to be licensed to practice medicine. After completing medical school and specialty residency training, individuals qualify for state licensure. Aspiring doctors must take and pass a national licensing exam, typically the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). Licensing requirements can vary according to each state's medical board.

Step 5: Gain Training in a Sub-Specialty

Those wanting to specialize in a subfield of emergency medicine will need to complete a fellowship program. Students may train in sub-specialties like ultrasound, disaster, and sports medicine. Medical fellowships typically take 1-2 years to complete and consist of clinical clerkships.

Step 6: Consider Board Certification

While certification is not mandatory, emergency medical doctors who've completed specialty training can pursue board certification in order to demonstrate their dedication and proficiency in the field. The American Board of Emergency Medicine (ABEM) is the certifying body for this specialty. Candidates for emergency medicine certification must pass a qualifying exam and an oral exam after having completed approved residency training. The ABEM also offers sub-specialty certifications in seven areas, including medical toxicology and sports medicine, for doctors who've completed sub-specialty fellowship training.

Step 7: Maintain Credentials

Many state medical licensing boards require doctors to maintain licensure throughout their careers by fulfilling continuing medical education (CME) requirements. The American Medical Association, for example, offers a range of CME opportunities, such as online tutorials and modules. Additionally, the ABEM requires board-certified emergency medicine doctors to renew certification regularly, which may entail completion of practice-improvement activities, self-assessments, and renewal exams.

Step 8: Career Advancement

Depending on their place of employment, emergency medical doctors may have great opportunities for advancement. Doctors may have the choice of moving into supervisory or managerial roles in clinics or hospitals. Doctors with ample experience working in a university or teaching hospital setting may have the opportunity to move into a teaching position. Additionally, choosing to focus on a sub-specialty will set a doctor apart from their peers and increase future advancement opportunities.

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