How to Become Emergency Medicine Specialist

Updated on January 10, 2024


Emergency medicine is a fast-paced and demanding medical specialty that requires broad knowledge and skills to treat patients with traumatic or medical emergencies. If you are calm under pressure, can think critically, and want to help save lives, becoming an emergency medicine specialist may be right for you. This comprehensive guide will outline the step-by-step process from obtaining the proper undergraduate education to securing a competitive emergency medicine residency. With commitment and perseverance, you can join this critical specialty that plays a vital role in the healthcare system. We’ll discuss the emergency medicine career path, necessary skills and training, and day-to-day responsibilities of an emergency room doctor.

What is an Emergency Medicine Specialist?

An emergency medicine specialist, or emergency physician, is a medical doctor expertly trained to handle acute, urgent situations requiring immediate care.



Essentially, emergency physicians are first responders in the ER, leveraging broad medical expertise to treat all types of time-sensitive conditions promptly. Their ability to swiftly assess and make decisions saves lives daily.

What do Emergency Medicine Specialists do?

Emergency medicine specialists, also known as emergency physicians, are doctors who evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients with serious or life-threatening injuries and illnesses in emergency room settings. As first responders in emergency situations, they must act swiftly and make rapid decisions to stabilize patients.

In essence, emergency medicine specialists have to adeptly handle high-pressure situations daily. Their ability to rapidly treat, stabilize, diagnose, and make decisions for critically ill or injured patients makes them vital healthcare providers.

Postgraduate Training for Emergency Medicine Specialist

After medical school, the next steps to become an emergency medicine specialist involve:

Some pursue additional subspecialty fellowships in areas like:

The rigorous postgraduate residency training equips emergency physicians with the skills to properly diagnose and treat patients with urgent and life-threatening medical issues, often under intense pressure.

Licensure and Certification

After completing medical school, the next step to becoming an emergency medicine specialist is postgraduate residency training. This advanced medical training typically takes 3-4 years to complete and provides physicians hands-on experience treating patients in emergency situations under the supervision of experienced attending physicians.

Residency programs in emergency medicine are very competitive, with applicants needing excellent test scores, grades, research experience, and letters of recommendation to match into top programs. According to the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP), there were approximately 1,900 PGY-1 residency positions in emergency medicine offered in 2022 for over 3,500 applicants.

Residents get in-depth training in diagnosing and stabilizing patients across all age groups with critical and life-threatening injuries and illnesses. They gain expertise in advanced procedures like airway intubation, trauma resuscitation, fracture stabilization, and acute medical interventions. Residents also rotate through various departments like internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, neurology, and radiology to broaden their medical knowledge.

Critically, trainees must exhibit strong decision-making, grace under pressure, and compassion. After successfully completing residency and certification testing, doctors obtain credentials to practice emergency medicine. Many also complete subspecialty fellowships in areas like pediatrics, research, or administration.

Ultimately, the rigorous postgraduate residency equips emergency physicians to leverage advanced assessment skills and clinical judgment to treat urgent, complex cases and save lives.

Skills and Qualities of a Successful Emergency Medicine Specialist

Clinical Skills

Decision-Making Ability

Communication Skills

Personal Traits

The most successful emergency medicine specialists have refined this unique blend of clinical knowledge, technical skills and unflappable personal attributes. Prospective ER physicians should look to embody these qualities through their training and medical education. Resources like the American College of Emergency Physicians ( provide more details on preparing for this demanding but rewarding specialty.

Emergency Medicine Specialist Salary

Years of Experience Average Salary
Less than 1 year $250,000
1-4 years $290,000
5-9 years $335,000
10-14 years $365,000
15-19 years $400,000
20 or more years $425,000

Career Opportunities and Advancement

Becoming an emergency medicine specialist opens up various career opportunities and room for advancement. Emergency medicine physicians work in hospital emergency departments, urgent care clinics, trauma centers, and other acute care settings.

As an emergency medicine specialist, you can advance your career in several ways:

Leadership Roles

After gaining substantial experience, emergency physicians can take on leadership positions such as medical director of the emergency department, chief of emergency medicine, or chief medical officer of the hospital. These roles allow you to influence policies, drive quality improvement initiatives, and manage operations while still practicing medicine.

According to a study by Merritt Hawkins, the average salary for an emergency medicine medical director is $358,000 a year.

Academic Medicine

Many emergency medicine specialists combine clinical work with teaching and research by working in academic medicine. You can become faculty at a medical school and teach future emergency physicians. With additional research training, you can conduct research to advance emergency medicine practice and apply for research grants.

Over time, you can advance to become a residency program director or department chair and take on wider administrative responsibilities besides practicing medicine. The annual average salary for academic emergency medicine physicians ranges from $250,000 to over $400,000.


Some emergency physicians transition into full-time administrative roles managing emergency departments and urgent care centers or developing health policies and emergency medical systems at the state and national levels. These roles allow you to impact broader change beyond individual patient care.

For example, you could work for organizations such as the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Dual Specialties

Emergency physicians have the option to complete additional training in other specialties like internal medicine, critical care medicine, pediatric emergency medicine, sports medicine, pain medicine, palliative care, or undersea & hyperbaric medicine.


In conclusion, becoming an emergency medicine specialist is a rewarding career path that allows you to provide critical, lifesaving care to patients in urgent situations. However, it requires an extensive amount of training and education. As this article outlines, the first step is obtaining a bachelor’s degree, preferably with coursework in biology, chemistry, anatomy, and physiology. Next, you must complete four years of medical school to earn your MD or DO degree. Afterward, you need to finish a 3-4 year emergency medicine residency program to gain hands-on experience treating patients in the ER.

In short, if you are willing to complete nearly a decade of intensive schooling and training after college, have composure under pressure, and desire to provide urgent care to distressed patients, becoming an emergency medicine specialist can be incredibly fulfilling. It allows you to use your medical expertise and interpersonal skills to save lives during some of the most critical imaginable moments.

Additional Resources

Organization/Website Description
Emergency Medicine Residents’ Association (EMRA) Comprehensive website ( covering aspects of emergency medicine residency training. Provides tips on program selection, interviews, and success as a resident. Publishes guides and handbooks for residents.
The Happy EM Resident ( Resident-run site offering insights into the daily life of an emergency medicine physician, including topics like shift work, continuing education, handling stress, and achieving work-life balance.
American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) Provides information on the path to becoming an emergency medicine specialist. Covers exposure through rotations, applying to residencies, residency training, state licensure, and tips for selecting the right residency program. Website
Emergency Medicine Simulation Centers Hands-on learning centers across the country that offer simulation-based training using high-tech mannequins and environments to create real-world emergency scenarios. Examples include the Harvard Medical Simulation Center ( and the SimCenter (
Mentorship Opportunities Seeking guidance and insights from mentors like academic advisors, resident advisors, and faculty members for personalized advice on the path to becoming an emergency medicine specialist.


What education is required to become an emergency medicine specialist?
To become an emergency medicine specialist, you must complete a 4-year undergraduate degree, 4 years of medical school to earn your MD or DO, and then complete a 3-4 year emergency medicine residency program. You will gain extensive experience treating patients in emergencies during your medical training. You can find residency programs in emergency medicine across the country that are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).

What kind of experience is needed?
Becoming an emergency medicine specialist requires extensive on-the-job training and experience. During your residency, you will work over 60 hours per week, gaining supervised experience treating emergency patients. This includes conducting medical examinations, diagnosing conditions, developing treatment plans, stabilizing critically ill patients, coordinating care with specialists, and honing your skills in procedures like suturing complex wounds or inserting breathing tubes. You must demonstrate competency in all required aspects of emergency care. Many pursue additional fellowship training beyond residency to gain further specialized experience in areas like EMS, pediatric emergency medicine, and medical toxicology.

What is the average salary for an emergency medicine specialist?
According to the Medical Group Management Association’s Physician Compensation Survey, the average annual salary for emergency medicine specialists is $370,000. However, salaries can range from $200,000 for those just starting out to over $400,000 for those with considerable experience. Factors impacting your salary include geographic location, type of medical facility, and subspecialty expertise. Those working in hospital emergency departments tend to have higher salaries than urgent care doctors.

What are the most rewarding aspects of this career?
Emergency medicine specialists enjoy very fast-paced, stimulating work environments with lots of variety. No two days are ever the same. These specialists take great rewards in being the first-line providers for patients in traumatic or life-threatening situations. They have the skills to rapidly treat, stabilize, and save patients’ lives daily. Emergency physicians like being on the front lines of healthcare and getting satisfaction knowing they make a significant difference for patients daily. They also value the flexible scheduling options the field allows.