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Emergency Room Career Options and Education Requirements

Providing patients with diagnosis and treatment, emergency rooms are primary care facilities that handle a wide range of urgent conditions. In ERs, emergency medical technicians bring patients into the care of doctors and nurses. Careers in emergency medicine require various amounts of education. Health care providers in emergency rooms work under time constrictions and perform triage, the prioritization of patients and medical supplies.

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Emergency Room Physicians

In emergency rooms (ERs), doctors perform medical tests on patients in order to diagnose conditions such as poisoning or heart attack. Emergency room physicians also write prescriptions and perform complicated medical procedures, such as suturing deep cuts. One of the most important functions of emergency room doctors is triage: evaluating patients to determine who needs help most urgently. This allows them to maximize the efficiency of treatment and medical supplies.

Career Information

There are relatively few ER doctors. According to the American Medical Association (, nearly four percent of doctors are emergency medicine physicians. Employment opportunities for physicians may expand significantly in the near future. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of doctors working in the U.S. will grow 22% between 2008 and 2018.

Education Requirements

Someone interested in becoming an emergency room physician must complete substantial amounts of formal education. Students applying to medical school generally earn a bachelor's degree in a science field, like chemistry or biology. Near the end of their undergraduate coursework, students must take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) as they apply to medical school.

Medical school applications are strongly competitive. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, in 2009, only 43.5% of medical school applicants became medical students. Students pursuing a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree take intensive courses in anatomy, biochemistry and pharmacology. Following medical school, emergency room-bound doctors complete an emergency medicine residency program lasting three or more years.

Licensure and Certification

After finishing all education and residency requirements, aspiring doctors are required to maintain extensive licensing requirements. All physicians must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). They commonly maintain licensure with their state's government every few years by submitting proof of continuing education study they performed.

Specialty certification through the American Board of Emergency Medicine (ABEM) requires doctors to complete written and oral examinations. They receive either the Emergency Medicine Initial Certification (EMIC) or the Emergency Medicine Continual Certification (EMCC).

Emergency Room Nurses

Much of the work in emergency rooms is actually performed by skilled nurses. Emergency room nurses are tasked with general patient care in a busy, fast-paced scenario. They keep track of medical records and distribute medication to patients. Nurses also assist doctors in the diagnosis and management of patients during triage. They must know how to care for patients with severe trauma, such as head or spinal injuries, without further injuring them.

Career Information

Typical salaries for emergency room nurses across the country ranged from $60,000 to $77,000 in early 2010, reports The nursing workforce is expected to grow significantly in the next few years. The BLS says the number of available jobs for registered nurses will likely increase 22% between 2008 and 2018.

Education Requirements

People who want to try emergency room nursing are required to earn either an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission are the two agencies which can confer accreditation on nursing programs.

Licensure and Certification

Upon completion of undergraduate education, registered nurses must pass a licensing examination administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Nursing licenses can typically be renewed through continuing education courses. Specialty certification for work in emergency rooms is available by passing an examination. The Certified Emergency Nurse credential is conferred by the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA).

Emergency Medical Technicians

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are responsible for transporting trauma victims and patients to the emergency room in ambulances. EMTs also attempt to stabilize severely injured patients if the need arises.

Career Information

The overall employment outlook for emergency medical technicians is very stable. The BLS expects job openings for EMTs to increase nine percent between 2008 and 2018. Emergency medical technicians earned a median hourly wage of $14.10 in May 2008.

Education Requirements

A would-be emergency medical technician needs to graduate from high school. Vocational schools and community colleges are both good places to get EMT education. An emergency medical technician can proceed through three levels of training programs: EMT-Basic, EMT-Intermediate and EMT-Paramedic. EMT-Basic training is a necessity for applicants to paramedic programs. All individuals interested in becoming emergency medical technicians must complete a licensing exam to begin professional practice.

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics