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How Much Do Er Doctors Make

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TV Dramas Don't Tell the Whole Story About Emergency Room Medicine

More than 136 million people visit an emergency room each year, according to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Hopefully, you or your family will not be among them, but if you are, a specially trained physician, the ER doctor, will provide treatment.

Job Description

Emergency room (ER) doctors are trained to diagnose and treat a variety of illnesses and injuries, some of them life-threatening. They provide care to patients of all ages, working with other physicians and support staff. ER doctors may do any of the following:

  • Perform initial patient evaluations and examinations
  • Order tests, X-rays and medications
  • Consult with doctors, nurses and others to determine the best course of action for each patient
  • Explain procedures, diagnoses, tests and treatment to patients and family members
  • Work closely with specialists who can continue care or admit patients to the hospital
  • Interpret test results and X-rays

Anyone considering a career as an emergency room physician must be willing to bear the burden of making critical, time-sensitive decisions. While the work can be rewarding, it's also stressful. Work hours can be long, and evening and weekend rotations are often required.

Education Requirements

The first step in becoming a doctor is to earn a bachelor's degree. Although a specific major is not required for admission to medical school, coursework should include life sciences, chemistry, physics, mathematics, English, communications and social sciences. If you have a bachelor's degree in a non-science discipline, you may have to return to school to get the courses you need. Admission to medical school is competitive. You'll need a grade point average of 3.65 or higher, good scores on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and letters of recommendation from people who can attest to your abilities and work ethic.

Medical school requires four years after the bachelor's degree. You'll attend lectures and take advanced laboratory sciences. You'll complete supervised clinical rotations in a variety of specialties to gain experience and skill.

After graduation, new physicians must pass the three-part United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). Then, to become emergency room physicians, they must complete a three-year residency to prepare for the varied day-to-day situations they will encounter in their practice. Emergency room physicians become board certified by either the American Osteopathic Board of Emergency Medicine (AOBEM) or the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS).

Some physicians choose to specialize even further and undertake a fellowship to study a sub-specialty of emergency room medicine. These include pediatric emergency medicine, pain management, sports medicine, medical toxicology, disaster medicine, wilderness medicine, and undersea and hyperbaric medicine. It's possible to obtain board certification in sub-specialties.

Continuing education is required to maintain board certification. Medical schools and professional organizations offer conferences, seminars and classes through which physicians can earn the necessary credit hours.

About the Industry

Most full-time ER doctors work in shifts from six to 12 hours long. Typically, a full-time position is defined as eight to 10 shifts of 12 hours each per month. Opportunities exist for part-time work as well.

ER doctors work in hospitals and medical centers, usually seeing from one to four patients per hour. Although most ER doctors do not experience the continual adrenaline-pumping action seen on television dramas, a typical shift can include stitching up a cut, setting a broken bone, or treating a patient who's had a heart attack or stroke.

Years of Experience

Emergency room physicians are among the highest paid specialists in the medical field. Geographic location has perhaps the biggest influence on salary variations. Specialty practice and board certification also affect pay. The salary range for an emergency room doctor is usually between $232,638 to $319,755. Depending on experience, average salary ranges for ER doctors are:

  • Less than 1 year experience: $243,476–266,957
  • 3–4 years’ experience: $245,282–$268,763
  • 7–9 years’ experience: $250,099–$272,978
  • 15–19 years’ experience: $265,753–$290,432
  • 20+ years’ experience: $268,763–$293,923

Job Growth Trend

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for all physicians, including emergency room physicians, will continue to be strong. The increase in the general population, along with advances in medical research and technology, should ensure the growth of job opportunities. Demand for ER doctors may vary by geographic region.


Denise Dayton is a a freelance writer who specializes in business, education and technology. She has written for, Library Journal, The Searcher, Bureau of Education and Research, and corporate clients.

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