Kara Barker is a third year medical student who is embarking on the year-long journey to match to an EM residency. This is how she made that decision.
Prior to starting medical school, my experience with Emergency Medicine (EM) was limited to an ER visit with my nephew following an unfortunate run-in with a homemade arrow and a few late night TV episodes of Bizarre ER. During medical school one of my instructors - a retired EM doc - piqued my interest in this field with her wild stories about her time “on the front line of medicine”. When I had to pick my third year elective rotation, I decided to see for myself what all the excitement was about. After just one day in the Emergency Department I was done searching for my future specialty. I was done trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I was hooked.
There were several aspects of this experience that helped me end my search for a specialty:
Variety. We saw a tremendous variety of patients each and every shift. We treated babies, elderly and everyone in between. We treated psychiatric patients, pregnant women, the critically ill, prison inmates, college students, the addicted, veterans, and many more. We had the opportunity to meet and help people from every walk of life. There was never a dull moment.
Multifaceted Challenge. Every shift offered interesting and diverse challenges. The EM physicians had to possess the tools to address the most critical issues in all other specialties. These tools included both medical knowledge and the skills needed to perform a multitude of procedures. During my first twelve hour shift we reduced a shoulder, placed a central line, treated an anaphylactic reaction, evaluated a suicidal patient, treated a miscarriage, placed a chest tube, and sutured multiple lacerations.
And the challenge did not end with just having medical knowledge and procedural skills. The EM physicians also had to have exceptional interpersonal skills – they had to be mind-reader, therapist and trusted confidant all wrapped in one. In a matter of minutes, they had to be able to enter a room, read the patient and their situation and then establish that patient’s trust to solicit critical information in order to initiate appropriate care.
Teamwork. Every day, the EM physicians worked closely with a large group of individuals including Emergency Nurses, Physicians Assistants, Medical Assistants, Interpreters, and many other members of the healthcare system. The team I was fortunate enough to briefly be a part of worked together like a well-oiled machine. The staff looked out for one another, anticipated each other’s needs, and collectively worked hard to deliver the best patient care possible. The losses were mourned together and the successes and triumphs were celebrated together. There were tense moments, there was a lot of laughter and, importantly, there was never a lonely moment.
Impact. On many days we were with patients during some of their most vulnerable moments. This meant that we had the opportunity to make a huge impact on their lives - whether by initiating a lifesaving treatment, easing someone’s pain, or simply taking the time to sooth a worried family member. I was inspired every day by what a privilege and responsibility this area of medicine carries with it.
In my opinion, EM physicians have one of the most interesting and challenging jobs out there. As a third year medical student, I feel fortunate to have found a specialty that inspires me. Now, I look forward to moving on to the next step in my journey – ending up in the emergency department . . . as one of these inspiring healthcare providers.
I hope reading this helps you decide if EM is right for you.