Emergency Room Physician Career Facts

Emergency room physicians are the equivalent of military M.A.S.H. doctors of the health care industry. They're the first to see emergency cases, and their decisions are critical. The emergency room (ER) is a place where everything has to run smoothly. Emergency cases are brought in at all times in all conditions, and ER staff may have to deal with multiple cases simultaneously. This is where the emergency room physician comes in, as the director and overseer of the ER's work. The role of the emergency room physician involves:

  • Triage: This is the initial assessment of patients, determining the medical care required, and which cases receive priority treatment.
  • Directing initial medical care and services required: This is sometimes done by ER nurses to a degree, but in many cases the work is complex, requiring a meeting of the minds.
  • Consultation: The more routine, non-critical cases in ER service may require the equivalent of a GP consultation, dealing with minor injuries or sudden ailments.

The Importance of the ER Doctor

It's impossible to overstate the importance of the emergency room physician's work. As the first physician in contact with the patient, diagnosis and examination have to be followed by decisions, often required to be made as soon as possible in serious cases.

The Work Environment

An emergency room physician must be fully familiar with all necessary medical procedures. There's no margin for error, and pressure is added by the fact that there may be several patients requiring urgent attention. Complex cases are regular. The emergency room physician has to work systematically, performing all necessary checks and procedures, working to the best time frames possible.

Emergency room physicians are experienced doctors, who must know the functions and processes of their hospitals extremely well. The skills required of an emergency room physician are:

  • Excellent communications skills: Clear instructions are essential.
  • Analytical skills: The need to move from patient to patient requires good focus and situational awareness, when making diagnoses.
  • Organizational skills: As the directing physician, the emergency room physician has to be aware of the use of resources and management of work flow issues.
  • Problem solving skills: Working in an area as busy and as complex as an ER naturally involves problems. Even managing space in an ER can be difficult in busy periods. The emergency room physician needs to have an objective view of the situation, working on problems on a results-based framework.

Wages: $105,000 to $200,000 depending on location, experience, qualifications, and employment terms. Also includes bonuses in some cases. 

Hours: Highly variable, dependent on ER situations and may involve being on call.

The Career Outlook

Working as an emergency room physician is a professional credential in its own right. The job is a verification of very high levels of skills, and is also excellent professional experience in dealing with the important fundamentals of medical practice.

Career progression for emergency room physicians may be through specialization, qualifications, and job mobility. The ER work is a particularly effective career asset in terms of proof of high core competencies. It's also an important learning process for career purposes, covering the entire spectrum of general practice, hospital operational processes, and front line medical issue management. Few other jobs in medicine can provide this experience.