What’s it like to be an emergency physician? Take a look inside the psyches of ED docs from around the planet.
So, you want to be an ER doctor. What does that mean? Is it even possible to understand the reality of life as a full time emergency physician when you make the leap of faith on Match day? Because that’s what it is, isn’t it? The match, a leap of faith? You spend, at best, a few months in medical school doing all of the fun stuff in a specialty and then you need to decide the course of the rest of your life as a physician. It’s analogous to emergency medicine in a way, making a monumental and critical decision based on insufficient information.
I graduated from medical school in the mid 90s. I was certain, CERTAIN, that I was going to be an orthopedic surgeon. That idea was locked in until I actually rotated in ortho. The comraderie was great, the OR was fun, clinic always interesting, but it didn’t feel like it fit my personality. As I rotated through each medical specialty in the third year of med school, there was always time spent in the ED. Whenever I was there, in the emergency department, I loved it. The pathology, the pace, procedures, and the challenge of diagnosing and managing undifferentiated complaints and…. the people who worked in the ED were my sort of folk: A) Smartasses B) Short attention spans C) Excited at the uncertainty of what was lying behind curtain number one and D) What I hoped would be part of my persona some day- taking care of business in the critically ill patient, getting it done like there was nothing to it. Caring for patients in the ED, I felt like I was making a difference. But, as I said, the downsides aren’t as apparent when you’re in the infatuation stage. I later leaned what stressed me out, and believe me, even if you think you’re invincible, you too have a stress point. For me, it was task saturation. Too much to do all at once. When you get out of training and it’s just you with a fully loaded ED with lots of sick patients, phone calls to make, procedures to do, conversations, charting, and on and on… task saturation. It’s one of the skills you learn in residency but nothing can fully prepare you for your first day at the captains helm. That was something I had to learn, not only to live with, but how to manage. Task saturation happens at least once every shift.
This episode is intended to give you a peek inside the mind of the workaday ED doc. The lessons they’ve learned and what can they pass on to you. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still the best job in the world, at least I think so, but it’s also not easy. If you’re thinking about emergency medicine as a career, you should go into it with open eyes and understand the highs, the lows, the sexy resuscitation, burnout, all of it, warts and all.