How to Become an ER Doctor: Career and Education Roadmap

Learn what it takes to become an emergency room (ER) doctor. We'll cover the education, career requirements, licensure, and experience required for pursuing a career as an ER doctor. View article »

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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
  • 3:36 Complete a Residency &…

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Video Transcript

ER Doctors

Degree Level Medical degree
Licensing Medical doctors must pass the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE)
Experience ER residency program is required
Key Skills ER doctors must be able to work under pressure and have strong communication skills
Salary $206,114 (2016 median for emergency room doctors)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS),

An emergency room (ER) doctor treats and cares for patients admitted to an emergency room. Once patients arrive, an ER doctor is responsible for a number of duties, such as assessing their conditions and beginning treatment, ordering tests or X-rays, and/or providing medication. ER doctors stabilize a trauma patient or treat injuries like lacerations, broken bones, and sprains. If a specialist is necessary, an ER doctor will call them or admit the patient for further care.

ER doctors work very long, irregular hours, most of which are on their feet. It's a high-stress position that requires complex multi-tasking. There is also some risk for illness and injury while working in an emergency room, but the reward of saving someone's life is unparalleled. And according to, emergency room doctors earn a median annual salary of $206,114 as of January 2016.

Earn a Bachelor's Degree

The first step to becoming an ER doctor consists of earning a bachelor's degree. While there is no specific major for prospective medical doctors to pursue, it's important that they complete science-related courses in a bachelor's degree program. Several schools also offer a pre-medical track that can be pursued with the assistance of a pre-professional advisor. Students will have to take courses like cellular biology, human physiology, and organic chemistry, but will also have to take courses in English, mathematics, and physics.

Prospective medical school students should also think about volunteering or working in a medical facility. Medical school enrollment is competitive, and having experience in a hospital or clinic can be beneficial. While you may be able to find employment opportunities, volunteering is a great option and will make your application more appealing.

Take the MCAT

The second step to becoming an ER doctor involves taking the MCAT. The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is an examination that assesses an applicant's readiness for medical school. Medical schools use the scores from this exam to determine whether an applicant has the critical thinking, problem-solving, and writing skills necessary to succeed at that level. The exam tests applicants in the physical sciences, biological sciences, verbal reasoning, and writing.

Earn a Medical Degree

The third step consists of earning a Doctor of Medicine degree. The first two years of medical school focus on coursework and laboratory experiences. This is an opportunity for students to study microbiology, anatomy, pharmacology, medical ethics, physiology, and immunology. The final two years of the program offer students a chance to participate in clinical rotations involving emergency medicine, cardiology, gynecology, psychology, orthopedics, and more. Medical students will begin working with patients, taking medical histories, and completing basic procedures under the supervision of experienced physicians.

Completing an emergency department internship can also be beneficial. Before you begin your fourth year of medical school, you can participate in an internship with an emergency department. Not only will this give you experience, but it will help you with your residency application.

Obtain a License

The fourth step centers on obtaining a license. In order to practice medicine, medical doctors need to obtain a license from the state in which they plan to practice. In order to earn licensure, doctors must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), which is a 3-part exam that tests applicants on their ability to care for patients and work in a medical and emergency setting.

Complete a Residency & Fellowship

The fifth step to becoming an ER doctor requires the completion of a residency program. An emergency medicine residency lasts three years and consists of conferences, lab work, and clinical simulations. Conference topics usually cover specific areas of emergency medicine, like cardiovascular or pulmonary treatment, while labs train doctors in specific skills like airway management, repairing of wounds, and orthopedics. In clinical simulations, students work on mannequins and are put into simulated situations that they might face on a day-to-day basis in a healthcare setting. Emergency medicine residency also includes peer review, seminars, and, eventually, supervised clinical training in a real-world setting.

The sixth and final step to becoming an ER doctor consists of entering a fellowship program. As an ER doctor, you can become specialized by participating in a fellowship program. A fellowship program will provide you with training in a subspecialty, such as pediatric emergency medicine, pain management, disaster medicine, or medical toxicology.

In order to become an emergency room doctor, prospective physicians must:

  • Earn a bachelor's degree
  • Take the MCAT
  • Earn a Doctor of Medicine degree
  • Obtain a license to practice medicine
  • Complete a residency program
  • Enter a fellowship program
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    University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

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