What is Emergency Medicine?

Lindsay Zortman
Lindsay Zortman
Paramedics are emergency medicine professionals.
Paramedics are emergency medicine professionals.

Emergency medicine is a focus of medical practice centered on diagnosing and treating patients in emergency situations, whether those situations are the result of trauma such as an automobile accident or sudden, serious illness. Medical professionals who concentrate their practice on emergency medicine often work in hospital emergency rooms. Others work as emergency medical technicians on ambulances and medical helicopters. Life or death decisions are made every day in the practice of emergency medicine.

Most hospitals and medical centers offer emergency rooms.
Most hospitals and medical centers offer emergency rooms.

Training to practice emergency medicine is part of a doctor's specialized training and usually takes four or five years to complete. This specialty is relatively competitive in medical schools because of the hours associated with the job. Emergency medicine doctors and nurses work long hours but usually have specific shifts and, depending on the job, rarely serve on-call duties. The work's fast pace also makes a shift go quickly. Doctors can also focus on sub-specialties within emergency medicine, such as surgery, pediatrics and sports medicine.

Emergency medicine is often needed in areas hit by natural disasters.
Emergency medicine is often needed in areas hit by natural disasters.

Combining knowledge from a variety of specialties helps make the emergency medicine specialty appealing to doctors. A typical work day can include helping with anesthesia or managing an airway, plastic surgery skills such as suturing wounds, and even obstetrics tasks such as delivering a baby. Paramedics serve in an emergency medicine capacity while transporting patients to hospitals and often get to practice emergency medicine for the short period of time a patient is in their vehicle. Paramedics are able to complete their training in half the time of medical doctors, but also receive a significantly smaller salary.

First responders begin emergency medical treatment on victims as soon as they arrive on the scene of an accident.
First responders begin emergency medical treatment on victims as soon as they arrive on the scene of an accident.

Trauma care is not always the service being provided by an emergency medicine doctor, who can also provide intervention and screening for less life-threatening illnesses. Substance abuse disorders, mental health issues and common colds are also typical conditions of patients visiting the emergency room. Larger trauma centers may have several emergency medicine doctors on staff to deal with patients, while smaller country hospitals may only have one physician working at any time.

Emergency medicine may be needed to help people displaced due to flooding.
Emergency medicine may be needed to help people displaced due to flooding.

With approximately 120 million visits to the emergency room each year, an emergency medicine doctor is likely to stay busy throughout a shift. Providing basic life support, immediate stabilization and urgent care is a necessity in a medical emergency. Paramedics and emergency medicine personnel pride themselves on having the training to take care of people during their most vulnerable times. It's not a job for everyone. Some people who make excellent office-based medical practitioners may not fair as well when working under the pressure of a medical crisis.

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    • Paramedics are emergency medicine professionals.
      By: gwimages
      Paramedics are emergency medicine professionals.
    • Most hospitals and medical centers offer emergency rooms.
      By: SeanPavonePhoto
      Most hospitals and medical centers offer emergency rooms.
    • Emergency medicine is often needed in areas hit by natural disasters.
      By: FrankBirds
      Emergency medicine is often needed in areas hit by natural disasters.
    • First responders begin emergency medical treatment on victims as soon as they arrive on the scene of an accident.
      By: corepics
      First responders begin emergency medical treatment on victims as soon as they arrive on the scene of an accident.
    • Emergency medicine may be needed to help people displaced due to flooding.
      By: FedeCandoniPhoto
      Emergency medicine may be needed to help people displaced due to flooding.
    • A first aid kit at home can help with emergency medical issues until paramedics arrive.
      By: Paul Gibbings
      A first aid kit at home can help with emergency medical issues until paramedics arrive.