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Life of an EM Doctor

January 11, 2024
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Are you considering a career as an emergency medicine physician? The medical education of an EM doctor differs slightly from that of other specializations, so it's important to be prepared. At Saint James School of Medicine, we prepare students to succeed in their chosen specialization. As the premier medical college in the Caribbean.

What Is Emergency Medicine?

Emergency medicine focuses on treating patients with severe or immediate medical needs, such as those visiting the emergency room. While they can have specialties, their strength relies on knowing a little about every condition. When you specialize in emergency medicine, you participate in a separate residency track from those practicing surgical or internal medicine. Whereas most residencies require only three years of residency, many employers find it beneficial for EM to undergo an additional year.

The Unique Challenges of Emergency Medicine

Because of its fast-paced nature and high demand, practicing emergency medicine comes with some unique challenges, as well as those you'll share with other medical professionals.

Overworking

Every residency and medical specialization requires significant dedication and often intense work schedules. While they don't work the 80-hour weeks of most other specialties, they work more diverse and inconsistent hours. Because of the fast-paced nature of the work, the hours are often more draining and exhausting than the longer work weeks of other residencies. Hospitals tend to have more patients in the evening and overnight, meaning even after residency, you'll work more nights and weekends than other medical professionals. According to the Medscape Lifestyle Report, emergency medicine doctors have the highest rate of burnout at 50%.

Continuing Education

Because they must excel in a wider range of treatments and diagnostics than other specialists, emergency medical doctors often participate in more continuing education than other medical doctors. While you might enjoy learning about the most modern medical techniques and developments, you'll have to determine how best to schedule the education into your work, family life, and recreation, all of which are important to avoid burning out.

Stress

Because they deal almost exclusively with patients in life-or-death situations, it's one of the most stressful specializations in the medical field. You might experience a higher mortality rate than other doctors, which can wear on you over time. You also must adapt to moving quickly and making decisive choices. You often won't have a chance to research alternative treatments or make differential diagnoses when your primary goal is stabilizing the patient. Emergency medicine doctors must consistently act with confidence and juggle a large amount of knowledge they can tap at a moment's notice. This can put constant stress on you, potentially weighing heavily on your mental and physical health.

Relocating

If you're considering medical school for the emergency medicine track, you should stay aware of the high likelihood you'll need to relocate. Despite the high rate of burnout, many states have too many emergency doctors. You might have fewer choices in the hospitals or clinics you can work at compared to doctors of other specialties.

Balancing Family

While residency for any specialty is difficult on families, because of the frequency of nights and weekends, emergency room doctors frequently find it more difficult to balance work and family life. Consider these complications before you commit to specializing in emergency medicine.

From Med Student to Emergency Medical Doctor

How can you prepare for a career as an emergency medical doctor?

Choose the Specialty

While you'll require a lot of generalized knowledge, you can still choose one of the following subspecializations:
    • Sports medicine treats injuries most commonly arising from athletic injuries.
    • Wilderness medicine focuses on conditions like hypothermia, frostbite, and animal bites.
    • Radiology performs important imaging tests such as ultrasounds and X-rays.
    • Toxicology treats emergency conditions arising from substances like drug overdoses or snake bites.
    • Pediatrics focuses on treating emergency conditions in children and minors.
Because emergency medicine requires a separate residency, you should decide early in your medical education whether you want it as your specialization.

Prepare for Residency

Use your first few years to prepare for the unique demands of an emergency medicine residency. You'll perform more procedures and fewer diagnostics than other doctors, so focus on increasing your knowledge and confidence in things like intubation and resuscitation.

Practice Habits

The habits you form in med school will carry into your career. Work hard to develop routines for caring for yourself, time management, and getting plenty of sleep.

Set Yourself Up for Success As an EM Doctor

With the above advice, you can feel empowered to choose emergency medicine as your specialization. You can start preparing in the earliest years of medical school.
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