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.
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.
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.
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.
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.