There are more than 32,000 practicing emergency physicians. Over 21,000 of these are certified by the American Board of Emergency Medicine (ABEM). The demand for board certified emergency physicians is greater than the current supply. There are over 114 million emergency department visits in nearly 5000 hospitals across the country each year.
Resuscitation and stabilization of patients is the emergency physician’s primary duty. The emergency physician is also responsible for ensuring that all life-threatening causes of a patient’s condition are considered. If it is determined that all life-threatening causes for the patient’s condition cannot be ruled out, the emergency physician is then responsible for ensuring that the patient is admitted to the appropriate facility for evaluation.
The emergency physician must be able to recognize, stabilize and evaluate a sick patient quickly and efficiently to reach a tentative diagnosis. A quick mind and decisive nature is required for these tasks. Other traits required include; knowledge and interest in the breadth of medicine, manual dexterity, deductive ability, physical diagnostic skills and nerves of steel. It is essential that an emergency physician have excellent communications skills. The need to establish rapport in a short period of time under stressful circumstances arises frequently. A cooperative attitude is also essential; an emergency physician’s success depends on effectively working as part of a team with members of the emergency department as well as physicians in other specialties.
A career in emergency medicine has benefits and limitations. A student who is considering specializing in emergency medicine needs to be aware of and willing to accept these. An emergency physician must be able to adjust to an unpredictable variety of patients and an ever-changing work pace. Emergency medicine is one of very few medical specialties where the reward of stabilizing a critically ill patient can be experienced.
Most emergency physicians practice in a community setting where they encounter a broad spectrum of patients with a wide range of complaints including minor colds, vehicle accidents, abuse, assault, poisoning and heart attacks. A large segment of society’s indigent and uninsured patients are cared for in inner-city hospital’s emergency departments. In smaller, more rural hospitals, the emergency department often serves as the community’s only resource for emergency and primary care. In this situation, the emergency physician may become prominent and well known in the community.
The Job Market
Currently, there is a shortage of board-certified emergency physicians. This shortage is expected to last at least through the year 2030. A recent survey shows that there were over 30% fewer residents graduating annually than needed to fill available emergency medical positions. Emergency medical residents have little problems finding employment. The type of practice and setting dictate salaries and benefits. The median annual salary for an emergency physician was $229,000 in 2003. The full range of salaries stretches between the low $100,000′s to more than $300,000. The majority of positions offer at least some basic benefits. These may include; paid malpractice insurance premiums, life insurance, retirement plans, pension plans and continued education. There are many employment situations and contractual arrangements available for an emergency physician to choose from. These include; a partnership in a group of emergency physicians, an independent contractor or a salaried employee of a hospital, academic institution or health maintenance organization. New graduates may also set up a new practice with relatively low overhead. This allows them to begin earning competitive incomes right away.