How to Become an ER Doctor: Career and Education Roadmap

Nov 25, 2019

An Emergency room doctor (ER doctor) is essentially an emergency physician. The education, training and licensing requirements to become an ER doctor are summarized here alongside general information about the duties and skills associated with the role.

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  • 0:01 ER Doctors
  • 1:01 Earn a Bachelor's Degree
  • 1:51 Take the MCAT
  • 2:20 Earn a Medical Degree
  • 3:13 Obtain a License
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Key Emergency Room Doctor Career Information

Emergency room (ER) doctors work on the front line of hospital care; they treat patients who have suffered medical trauma that requires immediate attention. ER doctors have to remain cool under pressure and calm in the presence of patients with distressing injuries. An ER doctor will typically be tasked with quickly assessing patients' medical conditions and determining the best course of initial treatment. This process may involve ordering X-rays, administering medication and deciding whether further treatment is needed in a more specialized hospital department.

Degree Level Medical degree
Licensing Must pass the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE)
Experience ER residency program
Key Skills Ability to think clearly under pressure; good communication skills
Median Salary (2018)* $208,000 or more (physicians and surgeons)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Become an ET Doctor

Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Once aspiring ER doctors graduate from high school, they will need to enroll in a bachelor's degree program at college. They should ideally pick a program that allows them to take several science courses, particularly ones that are biology- and chemistry-related so that they are adequately prepared for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Some colleges will offer pre-med tracks that include courses that cover the following topics:

  • Human physiology
  • Cellular biology
  • Organic chemistry
  • Calculus
  • Physics

Students can also take pre-med courses online if their college or program does not offer pre-med tracks. It may also be a good idea to volunteer in a hospital or clinic to get some initial basic experience as this can provide medical school hopefuls an advantage in what is a very competitive admissions process.

Tuition for medical school varies from state-to-state and by institution. However, as a guide, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the average cost of in-state tuition, fees, and health insurance at a public school was $36,755 per year in 2018-19.

Take the Medical College Admissions Test

The next step for budding ER doctors is to take the MCAT, which assesses medical school applicants' suitability. The MCAT tests a candidate's critical thinking, problem-solving and writing skills in the context of the biological and physical sciences. The scores from this test are a very important factor in whether a candidate is accepted into medical school or not.

Go to Medical School

Once a student has obtained a place in a program at medical school, they will spend two years focussing on coursework and acquiring laboratory experience in subject areas such as anatomy, physiology, immunology and microbiology. They will then spend two years undertaking clinical rotations where they will get hands-on experience in emergency medicine, gynecology, orthopedics and other medical specialty areas. It is during this rotation period that students will start working with patients and carrying out basic clinical procedures under supervision.

Additionally, between years three and four, students can complete an internship in an emergency department to gain valuable specialty experience and enhance their chances when it comes to residency applications.

Complete a Residency & Fellowship

ER doctors need to complete an emergency medicine residency that lasts three years and consists of clinical and laboratory training in trauma surgery, adult and pediatric emergency medicine and intensive care. This training comprises clinical simulations that recreate scenarios associated with emergency care and trauma surgery and also supervised training involving real patients in real medical environments. During this program, residents will also be expected to attend conferences covering a range of specialty areas of emergency medicine.

After completing a residency, ER doctors may wish to start a fellowship program where they can obtain intensive training in a subspecialty of emergency medicine such as disaster medicine, pain management or pediatric emergency medicine.

Get a License

When candidates have completed medical school and a residency, they will next need to obtain a medical license so they can legally practice. The licensure process involves passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). The USMLE is a three-step exam. The first step tests candidates' basic medical knowledge; the second step examines clinical knowledge and skills; and finally, the third step focuses on patient management and ambulatory services.

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    Yeshiva University
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    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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