Emergency medicine is an emerging field in medical schools across the United States. Traditionally, doctors who work in the emergency room of a hospital have educational backgrounds like every other doctor. That’s still true of many medical schools, though some programs have developed specific ER residency programs for students interested in careers in the ER. The path from high school to the ER is long and winding.
Before you can consider medical school, you need to earn a four-year undergraduate degree from a college or university. Though the specific degree doesn’t necessarily impact your chances of getting into medical school, some schools offer premed programs that prepare you for medical study by highlighting prerequisites in biology, chemistry and math. Most universities and colleges also have academic advisers who can work with you to keep you on track for entrance into medical school.
After a four-year undergraduate degree, you can look forward to four years of medical school in which you’ll learn everything you need to practice as a doctor. Many of the courses will teach you skills that will translate to the ER, though your school may not specifically highlight particular courses as ER-related. For example, you may take a first aid responder course to deal with emergency situations in addition to medical school classes in biology, anatomy, chemistry, psychology and computing. Med school involves a lot of studying and exams, with practical elements throughout where you’ll work with patients. But the real work with patients comes during the residency.
After graduating from medical school, you’ll have to do a residency at a hospital if you want to work toward a career in the ER. Most residencies will include some time spent in the ER section of a hospital, though this may not be the pure focus of your residency program. The amount of time you spend in each area will depend on your supervisor, the hospital's scheduling and your university's program; you can speak to the residency supervisor to try to find more ER time. Residencies last from two to four years, depending on the program you graduate from and the hospital you work with.
ER Residency Extensions
Some medical schools focus their residency programs specifically on -- and in -- the ER. The University of California’s program includes an internship in an ER before a full residency as one option; additionally, the university system has ER-specific residencies of up to four years. At the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada, students can opt in to a third year of residency that is spent mostly in ER departments. All ER residency programs involve rotation between the ER and other areas of the hospital, as is true of working doctors -- no doctor spends all of her time in the ER.