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When sudden illness or acute injury strikes, patients turn to hospital emergency rooms for immediate medical assistance. An ER doctor, or emergency medicine specialist, is a physician who diagnoses and treats illnesses and injuries in a hospital emergency room or other urgent care setting. Emergency medicine is a financially rewarding career, and it also comes with the reward of saving lives. ER doctors require intensive training to know how to shoulder their intensive responsibilities.
Emergency room physicians begin their careers by earning an M.D. or D.O. degree from an accredited traditional or osteopathic medical school. After that, they complete a 36-month residency program in emergency medicine to become eligible for certification by the American Board of Emergency Medicine. The ABEM grants certification to candidates who pass its oral and written exams within five years of completing their residency training. This certification lasts 10 years, and physicians must complete continuing education requirements to renew it.
In addition to the academic aptitude needed to complete medical school and the skill necessary to perform typical emergency room procedures, an ER doctor must be able to react quickly and make crisp decisions in an atmosphere of crisis. Emergency room physicians work in an extremely high-pressure environment, in which lives are on the line. They must be able to multitask and pay attention to detail, as they must provide proper care for patients who may arrive in the emergency room with more than one life-threatening situation.
When a patient arrives in an emergency room, the emergency room physician's first duty is to decide whether to discharge, treat or admit that patient. This may include taking a full physical so that the doctor can make a sound judgment as to whether a patient needs emergency or hospital care instead of a referral to a regular physician. In cases of severe acute trauma or illness, the ER doctor stabilizes the patient by administering medications and conducting surgical procedures that alleviate the medical crisis and prepare the patient for further treatment in a medical or surgical acute care unit.
Emergency medical specialists assist in the insurance reimbursement process by properly documenting all medications they administer and prescribe, as well as all tests and procedures they order or perform. As the leader of the emergency medical team, an emergency room physician communicates clearly with other members of the emergency room staff as well as with paramedics who provide information before a patient arrives on an ambulance.
- American College of Emergency Physicians: Emergency Physician Rights and Responsibilities
- CNN Money: 20 Highest-paying Jobs: 3. Emergency Room Physician
- American Medical Association: Requirements for Becoming a Physician
- Department of Emergency Medicine: University of California, Irvine: School of Medicine: Physician's Role
- Association of American Medical Colleges: Spotlight on Specialties; Emergency Medicine; January 2009
- American Board of Emergency Medicine: Board Eligibility
- American Board of Emergency Medicine: Emergency Medicine Initial Certification Overview
John DeMerceau is an American expatriate entrepreneur, marketing analyst and Web developer. He now lives and works in southeast Asia, where he creates websites and branding/marketing reports for international clients. DeMerceau graduated from Columbia University with a Bachelor of Arts in history.
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