Agraphia Medical Tragicomedy


10 Things That Make A Great Emergency Doc

I got asked this question at a dinner party the other night: "What's the difference between emergency physicians and other doctors?"

It took me a moment. I haven't had to answer that question since interviewing for residency, back when I had only spent two months as a medical student rotating through the field. I think I've got some better answers and perspective now. So, for all you aspiring premeds out there , or for laypeople interested in just what makes an ER doc tick...

1) You have to have passion for what you do.
This is true for every medical specialty, but moreso in emergency. A 10 hour shift will run you ragged and exhausted. It's only because I love it that I leave my shifts in a good mood. I helped a couple people, saw some cool things, and sure I'm tired... but at the end of the day I did good work.

2) You have to be willing to roll with the punches.
Usually figuratively. Sometimes literally. Things will be thrown at you that you would never expect. Multicar pileup on the freeway? You bet all those patients are coming to you at the exact same time. Guy found unresponsive in the snow? Yup, take him to the ER. And somewhere in there, a heart attack will sneak on through. Naturally they all arrive without any medical records.

3) You have to love interacting with people.
The emergency department thrives on teamwork. If you're not a people person, or you can't take criticism, you're dead in the water. You live and die by your nurses, techs, and consultants. Plus, you've got all of 5 minutes to meet a patient you've never seen before, shake their hand, and gain their trust so you can figure out what's wrong with them.

4) You can't be offended easily.
Consultants hate being called by the ER. Yeah, they're "on call", but I assure you nobody likes to be woken up at 3 AM. You'll be questioned on your medical judgement, you'll be ridiculed, and you need to understand that the other person is just tired. They simply don't want to see the patient if they don't have to.

5) You need to be quick on your toes ...
Slow people don't typically enjoy emergency medicine. If you don't like the idea that multiple new patients could show up at any time and need to be seen quickly, you may want to consider a specialty where you have time to be methodical, triple-dot your i's, and extra-cross your t's.

6) ... and good with your hands.
You hear this about any field that performs procedures. You will do so many procedures in emergency medicine that you will stop counting - and you will be grateful that you like to work with your hands. Some people simply don't enjoy this.

7) You need to accept your limitations.
You will never be a cardiologist, nor a neurosurgeon, nor a radiation oncologist, so you will not understand everything that they do. You will, however, know about 70% of what they do, which is just enough to babysit patients until the specialist comes.

8) You have to keep an open mind.
Our patients can be very hard to deal with. Suicide attempt by swallowing one tylenol. Alcoholic presents for acute missing sandwich and stat hot shower. Drug seeker needs dilaaa... dilauudaaa... dilaudid, is that it? The earlier you learn these people truly need help - referral to detox centers, shelters and social work, the easier your life will be. Otherwise you will turn into a cold shell of a person, always suspecting someone is trying to get the best of you.

9) You've gotta enjoy a bit of chaos.
For some, fun is a nice round of golf with the chaps. For us, fun is when the ED goes batshit - every patient wants something, every nurse, tech and doc is overworked, yet somehow you're keeping it together. It's trench medicine. It's the front lines of the American Health Care Debacle System. Exhilarating, isn't it?

10) You should be proud of what you do.
The unwashed masses are cast against the shores of the department and you take all comers. You don't ask insurance status. You don't ask if they can pay. No, you treat meningitis, fatal arrhythmias, broken bones, and bring people back from the brink. Why? Because it's the right thing to do.

Comments (12) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Great insight! Thanks.

  2. Good post. :) I am interested in Emergency Med, so this was nice insight. I worked in the ER as a preceptor between 1st and 2nd year and it was really exciting. Guess we’ll see what 3rd year brings. :)

    (p.s. you should have included aspiring doctors or med students, not just pre-meds! some of us already-past-the-pre-med-stage-not-quite-to-the-doctor-stage don’t know what we want to do yet either!)

  3. I’m pre-med currently and also a EMT while going to school. I just wanted to add that this is also very applicable to the entire spectrum of emergency medicine, and that I would attribute a large amount of burnout seen in the profession to the fact that some providers aren’t prepared for what you just posted.

  4. your honesty with yourself, as well as your readers/ inquirers, is what will keep you impassioned about ED for the longterm. good answer

  5. Thanks for writing these stories! I sent the link to my soon to be pre-med (fall 2011) son. Information like this really gives the student an idea of who they are working so hard to become and why it’s important.

  6. this was really inspiring for me, thank you!

  7. Agraphia is a great blog and this entry is especially fun for me to read. My brother is in his final year of residency at the ER in Detroit and everything here describes him. It’s the last place we thought he’d land but he’s good at it.

  8. Its great as your other articles : D, appreciate it for posting .

    • Hi JohnThanks for the comment, apgoiloes for the delay in getting back to you. One of the trustees will get in touch shortly and mail you the documents, as they are still being processed. Kind regardsThe Indie Trust

  9. Hello, just wanted to tell you, I liked this article. It was helpful. Keep on posting!

  10. You are an absolutely brilliant writer!

  11. awesome. currently working in ED as part of our 2year internship and I struggle to see the light in it daily but this gives me new insight. thanks:)

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