What does an emergency medicine physician do?

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What is an Emergency Medicine Physician?

An emergency medicine physician is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of acute and life-threatening medical conditions that require immediate intervention. These physicians work in hospital emergency departments, urgent care centers, and other acute care settings, where they provide rapid assessment, stabilization, and treatment to patients of all ages with a wide range of medical emergencies.

Emergency medicine physicians are trained to handle diverse medical emergencies, including trauma, cardiac emergencies, respiratory distress, severe infections, neurological emergencies, and obstetric emergencies, among others. They play a vital role in the frontline management of medical emergencies, ensuring that patients receive prompt and appropriate care to improve outcomes and save lives.

What does an Emergency Medicine Physician do?

Emergency medicine physicians running to the operating room.

Duties and Responsibilities
Emergency medicine physicians have a wide range of duties and responsibilities aimed at providing timely and effective medical care to patients presenting with acute and life-threatening conditions. Some of their key duties and responsibilities include:

  • Medical Assessment and Diagnosis: Emergency medicine physicians are responsible for conducting rapid and thorough medical assessments of patients presenting to the emergency department. They gather patient histories, perform physical examinations, order diagnostic tests (such as blood work, imaging studies, and electrocardiograms), and make timely diagnoses of acute medical conditions. They must accurately triage patients based on the severity of their conditions and prioritize treatment accordingly.
  • Emergency Treatment and Stabilization: Emergency medicine physicians are trained to provide immediate medical intervention and stabilization to patients experiencing critical or life-threatening emergencies. They administer medications, perform emergency procedures (such as airway management, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and wound care), and initiate treatment protocols to stabilize patients' conditions and prevent further deterioration. They must be adept at managing a wide range of medical emergencies, including trauma, cardiac arrest, stroke, respiratory distress, and severe infections.
  • Coordination of Care: Emergency medicine physicians coordinate patient care in collaboration with other healthcare providers, including nurses, paramedics, specialists, and support staff. They communicate with consulting physicians and specialists to arrange timely consultations, referrals, or transfers for patients requiring specialized care or admission to higher levels of care. They ensure that patients receive appropriate follow-up care and discharge instructions before leaving the emergency department.
  • Medical Documentation and Record-Keeping: Emergency medicine physicians are responsible for documenting patient encounters, medical assessments, treatment interventions, and clinical decisions in electronic medical records (EMRs) or patient charts. They maintain accurate and comprehensive medical records to facilitate continuity of care, ensure patient safety, and comply with regulatory requirements and documentation standards.
  • Professional Development and Education: Emergency medicine physicians engage in ongoing professional development activities to stay current with advances in emergency medicine practice, treatment guidelines, and clinical research. They participate in continuing medical education (CME) programs, attend conferences, and contribute to medical education and training of medical students, residents, and fellow physicians. They may also pursue board certification in emergency medicine through the American Board of Emergency Medicine (ABEM) to demonstrate their expertise and proficiency in the specialty.

Types of Emergency Medicine Physicians
Within the field of emergency medicine, physicians may pursue various areas of specialization or develop expertise in specific practice settings. Some common types of emergency medicine physicians include:

  • Disaster Medicine Specialist: Disaster medicine specialists focus on the medical management and response to mass casualty incidents, natural disasters, and public health emergencies. They may work in emergency departments, disaster response agencies, or public health organizations, where they develop disaster preparedness plans, coordinate emergency response efforts, and provide medical care in disaster settings.
  • Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Physician: EMS physicians provide medical oversight and direction to prehospital emergency medical services providers, including paramedics, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and ambulance crews. They may work in emergency departments, EMS agencies, or as medical directors for ambulance services, where they develop protocols, oversee training programs, and ensure quality and safety in prehospital care.
  • Emergency Ultrasound Director: Emergency ultrasound directors are emergency medicine physicians with specialized training and expertise in point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS). They oversee the integration and utilization of ultrasound technology in the emergency department, train emergency medicine residents and staff in ultrasound techniques, and interpret ultrasound findings to aid in the diagnosis and management of acute medical conditions.
  • Hyperbaric Medicine Specialist: Hyperbaric medicine specialists are emergency medicine physicians or specialists from other fields who have additional training in hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). They work in hyperbaric chambers and wound care centers, where they administer HBOT to patients with conditions such as decompression sickness, carbon monoxide poisoning, diabetic foot ulcers, and non-healing wounds.
  • Pediatric Emergency Physician: Pediatric emergency physicians specialize in the care of infants, children, and adolescents with acute medical conditions or injuries. They work in pediatric emergency departments or general emergency departments with pediatric expertise, where they provide specialized medical care tailored to the unique needs of pediatric patients, including neonates and infants.
  • Toxicologist: Toxicologists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of poisonings and toxic exposures. They work in emergency departments, poison control centers, and specialized toxicology clinics, where they assess patients with suspected poisonings, overdose, or toxic ingestions and provide medical management, antidotes, and supportive care.
  • Trauma Surgeon: Trauma surgeons are board-certified surgeons with additional training in the management of traumatic injuries. They work in trauma centers and emergency departments, where they provide immediate surgical intervention and critical care to patients with severe injuries, such as those resulting from motor vehicle accidents, falls, gunshot wounds, and other traumatic events.

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What is the workplace of an Emergency Medicine Physician like?

Emergency medicine physicians work in fast-paced and unpredictable environments, such as emergency departments in hospitals, urgent care centers, and ambulatory care facilities. The workplace of an emergency medicine physician is characterized by a constant sense of urgency, where they must respond quickly to various medical emergencies that may arise at any time. The work schedule for an emergency medicine physician can be demanding and irregular, with long shifts that may include overnight and weekend work.

The workplace of an emergency medicine physician is highly team-oriented, as they work closely with other healthcare professionals, including nurses, paramedics, and support staff. This collaboration is essential for providing efficient and effective care to patients, especially in critical situations. Emergency medicine physicians must have excellent communication and leadership skills to ensure that all team members are on the same page and that patient care is coordinated and delivered seamlessly.

In addition to providing immediate medical care, emergency medicine physicians also play an important role in preventing and managing the spread of infectious diseases. They are trained to identify and respond to outbreaks and epidemics, as well as to develop strategies to prevent the spread of infections within their facilities. This requires a keen understanding of public health and epidemiology, as well as the ability to work closely with local health departments and other community partners.

Frequently Asked Questions

Doctor Specializations and Degrees

The following is a comprehensive list of the various specializations that a doctor can pursue and a brief summary of each specialization:

  • Allergist: An allergist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of allergies, asthma, and related conditions. Allergists have specialized training in the recognition and management of allergic reactions.
  • Anesthesiologist: An anesthesiologist keeps a patient comfortable, safe and pain-free during surgery by administering local or general anesthetic.
  • Cardiologist: A cardiologist specializes in finding, treating, and preventing diseases that affect the heart, the arteries, and the veins.
  • Cardiothoracic Surgeon: A cardiothoracic surgeon specializes in surgical procedures inside the thorax (the chest), which may involve the heart, lungs, esophagus, and other organs in the chest. As well as performing surgery, they also diagnose and treat diseases of these organs.
  • Chiropractic Neurologist: A chiropractic neurologist is a specialized type of chiropractor who has undergone additional training in the field of neurology. They diagnose and treat conditions that affect the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the nervous system.
  • Chiropractor: A chiropractor, or doctor of chiropractic medicine, specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders of the musculoskeletal and nervous system, especially in the spine. Treatment is usually physical manipulation of the joints and the spine to bring them back into alignment. A chiropractor does not perform surgery or prescribe medication.
  • Colorectal Surgeon: A colorectal surgeon specializes in diseases of the colon, rectum, and anus, as well as the entire gastric tract. These surgeons work closely with urologists, who handle the urogenital tract in males and the urinary tract of women, gynecologists, who deal with specific female issues, and gastroenterologists, who deal with diseases of the gut.
  • Doctor: An general overview of what a doctor does and how to become one.
  • Dentist: Dentists identify potential oral health issues such as gum disease, as well as examine patients, order medical tests and determine the correct diagnosis and treatment. They also perform oral surgery and remove teeth or address other dental health problems.
  • Dermatologist: A dermatologist specializes in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of conditions affecting skin, hair, sweat and oil glands, nails, and mucus membranes (inside the mouth, nose, and eyelids) which can include cancer.
  • Emergency Medicine Physician: An emergency medicine physician works in emergency departments, hospitals, and urgent care clinics, and is often the first medical professional that patients see when they are in need of urgent medical care.
  • Endocrinologist: An endocrinologist specializes in diagnosing conditions and diseases related to the glands and hormones. While primary care doctors know a lot about the human body, for conditions and diseases directly related to glands and hormones they will typically send a patient to an endocrinologist.
  • Family Practitioner: A family practitioner specializes in caring for the entire family. Patients can be children, adults, and the elderly, and are treated for a wide array of medical issues.
  • Forensic Pathologist: A forensic pathologist investigates the cause of sudden and unexpected deaths, and is able to determine how a person died by performing an autopsy and studying tissue and laboratory results. These doctors are often called upon to provide evidence in court regarding the cause and time of such deaths.
  • Gastroenterologist: A gastroenterologist has specific training in diagnosing and treating conditions and diseases of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This may include diseases and disorders that affect the the biliary system (liver, pancreas, gallbladder, and bile ducts), as well as the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine (colon).
  • Geriatrician: A geriatrician specializes in the care of elderly patients, and often works with patients who have multiple chronic conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease, as well as age-related cognitive and functional impairments.
  • Gynecologist: A gynecologist specializes in women's reproductive systems. Gynecologists are also sometimes certified as obstetricians, and will monitor the health of the mother and the fetus during a pregnancy.
  • Hematologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of blood disorders, such as anemia and leukemia.
  • Hospitalist: A hospitalist is a physician whose focus is the general medical care of hospitalized patients. Their duties include patient care, teaching, research, and leadership related to hospital medicine.
  • Immunologist: An immunologist specializes in managing problems related to the immune system, such as allergies and autoimmune diseases. A smaller number of immunologists are strictly researchers seeking to better understand how the immune system works and to help develop better ways of diagnosing and providing treatment for many immunological conditions.
  • Infectious Disease Specialist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and hepatitis.
  • Internist: An internist is a 'doctor of internal medicine' who can diagnose, treat, and practice compassionate care for adults across the spectrum, from health to complex illness. They are not to be mistaken with "interns," who are doctors in their first year of residency training.
  • Medical Examiner: Medical examiners are responsible for performing autopsies and collecting evidence related to the circumstances of a death, including medical history, physical examination findings, and toxicology tests.
  • Naturopathic Physician: A naturopathic physician blends modern scientific medical practice and knowledge with natural and traditional forms of medical treatment. The goal is to treat the underlying causes of disease while stimulating the body's own healing abilities.
  • Nephrologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases. They treat conditions such as chronic kidney disease, acute kidney injury, kidney stones, hypertension, and electrolyte imbalances.
  • Neurologist: A neurologist specializes in treating diseases that affect the human nervous system. It is a very prestigious and difficult medical specialty due to the complexity of the nervous system, which consists of the brain, the spinal cord and the peripheral nerves.
  • Neurosurgeon: A neurosurgeon specializes in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of disorders of the central and peripheral nervous system. This includes congenital anomalies, trauma, tumours, vascular disorders, infections of the brain or spine, stroke, or degenerative diseases of the spine.
  • Obstetrician: An obstetrician is a medical doctor who specializes in caring for women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period.
  • Occupational Physician: Occupational medicine is focused on keeping individuals well at work, both mentally and physically. As workplaces become more complex, occupational physicians play an important role in advising people on how their work can affect their health.
  • Oncologist: An oncologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The three primary types of oncologists are: medical oncologists that specialize in the administration of drugs to kill cancer cells; surgical oncologists that perform surgical procedures to identify and remove cancerous tumors; and radiation oncologists that treat cancer with radiation therapy.
  • Ophthalmologist: An ophthalmologist is a specialist that deals specifically with the structure, function, diseases, and treatment of the eye. Due to the complexities and the importance of the eye as a special sense that provides vision, the discipline of ophthalmology is dedicated solely to this organ.
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon: An oral and maxillofacial surgeon treats dental and medical problems involving the oral cavity and the maxillofacial area. The maxillofacial area includes the bones of the forehead, face, cheekbones and the soft tissues. Treatment often involves performing surgery and related procedures to treat diseases, defects, or injuries, and to improve function or appearance.
  • Orthodontist: An orthodontist specializes in how the jaws and teeth are aligned. They help people whose teeth are misaligned or require some kind of correction – those with an improper bite, or malocclusion.
  • Orthopedic Surgeon / Orthopedist: An orthopaedic surgeon (or orthopedist) examines, diagnoses, and treats diseases and injuries of the musculoskeletal system. This system includes the bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, tendons, and nerves.
  • Osteopath: Osteopaths have attended and graduated from an osteopathic medical school and practise the system of healthcare known as osteopathy. They consider all aspects of the patient, not just the symptoms they exhibit. They see the integrated nature of the body’s organ systems and its capacity for self-regulation and self-healing.
  • Otolaryngologist: Otolaryngologists (or ENT physicians) are specialists trained in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with diseases and disorders of the ear, nose, throat (ENT), and related structures of the head and neck. These specialists are trained in both medicine and surgery.
  • Pathologist: A pathologist studies the causes, nature, and effects of disease. The field of pathology is broad with concentrations on changes in cells, tissues, and organs that are the result of a disease.
  • Pediatrician: A pediatrician specializes in providing medical care to infants, children and teenagers by administering treatments, therapies, medications and vaccinations to treat illness, disorders or injuries.
  • Periodontist: A periodontist is a dentist who specializes in oral inflammation, and who knows how to prevent, diagnose, and treat periodontal disease.
  • Plastic Surgeon: A plastic surgeon specializes in reshaping healthy body parts for aesthetic reasons, and also in repairing or replacing body parts damaged by accidents, illness or malformation.
  • Podiatrist: A podiatrist practices podiatric medicine, which is a branch of science devoted to the diagnosis, treatment and study of medical disorders of the foot, ankle, lower leg and lower back. In the U.S. and Canada, podiatry is practiced as a specialty.
  • Prosthodontist: A prosthodontist specializes in restoring the look, function, comfort, and health of a patient's oral cavity with artificial materials. These artificial materials are made up of a wide variety of restorations that include fillings, dentures, veneers, crowns, bridges and oral implants.
  • Psychiatrist: Psychiatrists are physicians who evaluate, diagnose and treat patients who are affected by a temporary or chronic mental health problem.
  • Pulmonologist: A pulmonologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of pulmonary (lung) conditions and diseases of the chest, particularly pneumonia, asthma, tuberculosis, emphysema, and complicated chest infections.
  • Radiologist: A radiologist is a specialist in interpreting medical images that may be obtained with x-rays, (CT scans or radiographs), nuclear medicine (involving radioactive substances, magnetism (MRI), or ultrasound.
  • Rheumatologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of rheumatic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
  • Sports Medicine Physician: A sports medicine physician specializes in taking care of people who have sports injuries that may be acquired from playing sports, exercising, or from otherwise being physically active.
  • Surgeon: A surgeon performs surgery for the purpose of removing diseased tissue or organs, to repair body systems, or to replace diseased organs with transplants.
  • Telemedicine Physician: A telemedicine physician provides remote healthcare services to patients using telecommunications technology, facilitating virtual consultations, diagnoses, and treatment recommendations.
  • Urologist: A urologist specializes in the treatment of the male and female urinary tract and the male reproductive organs. Urologists can treat the kidneys, urinary bladder, urethra, uterus, and male reproductive organs. There are also specific specialty areas that urologists may choose to focus on, such as pediatric urology, male infertility, and urologic oncology.
  • Vascular Medicine Specialist - A vascular medicine specialist specializes in the diagnosis and nonsurgical treatment of conditions affecting the blood vessels. They may work with patients who have conditions such as deep vein thrombosis, peripheral artery disease, or pulmonary embolism.
  • Vascular Surgeon - A vascular surgeon specializes in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of conditions affecting the blood vessels, including aneurysms, peripheral artery disease, and varicose veins.
  • Veterinary Dentist - A veterinary dentist is a specialized veterinarian who focuses on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of dental diseases and conditions in animals. They perform dental procedures such as cleanings, extractions, and oral surgeries to improve the oral health and well-being of pets and other animals.


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See Also
Doctor Allergist Anesthesiologist Cardiologist Cardiothoracic Surgeon Chiropractor Colorectal Surgeon Dentist Dermatologist Endocrinologist Family Practitioner Forensic Pathologist Gastroenterologist Geriatrician Gynecologist Hematologist Hospitalist Immunologist Infectious Disease Specialist Internist Medical Examiner Naturopathic Physician Nephrologist Neurologist Neurosurgeon Obstetrician Occupational Physician Oncologist Ophthalmologist Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon Orthopedic Surgeon Orthopedist Orthodontist Osteopath Otolaryngologist Pathologist Pediatrician Periodontist Plastic Surgeon Podiatrist Prosthodontist Psychiatrist Pulmonologist Radiologist Rheumatologist Sports Medicine Physician Surgeon Urologist Vascular Medicine Specialist Vascular Surgeon Chiropractic Neurologist Veterinary Dentist Telemedicine Physician