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How to Become an Emergency Medicine Physician in 2023

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by Yousmle Staff in Residency

Do you want to know how to become an emergency medicine physician? Are you interested in a medical career that provides not only patient care but also offers unique opportunities for medical research and a chance to be on the cutting edge of modern medicine?

If so, an emergency medicine career may be the perfect choice for you. In this blog post, I will explain what an emergency medicine doctor does and how to become one, even if you’re only in high school.


  • Emergency medicine doctors, also called ER doctors, assess and treat patients with acute illnesses or injuries requiring immediate treatment.
  •  According to the American College of  Emergency Physicians, the number of patients needing an ER doctor has increased by 32% while the number of ER doctors has reduced by 7%.
  • Emergency medicine residency training is 3 to 5 years, with the option of fellowship training afterward.
  • Going to a top medical school may help a bit. However, how you do on your USMLEs (Board) scores and in your med school class ranking will matter more
  • Non-PhD degrees like MBAs and MPHs appear to have no advantage to becoming a neurological surgeon (even has a slight disadvantage)

Table of Contents

What Are Emergency Medicine Physicians?

ER doctors diagnose, treat, and stabilize patients with acute medical conditions. They admit or discharge the patients after treatment and stabilization. Depending on their immediate assessments, they may refer patients to specialists as needed. They are trained to perform various emergency procedures such as

Rather than focusing on one patient at a time, an emergency doctor coordinates the treatment of several patients at once. ER doctors work in a fast-paced environment, providing holistic medical attention to patients.

Is an Emergency Medicine Physician a Doctor?

Are emergency medicine physicians doctors? The answer to this question is yes; emergency medicine physicians are doctors.

An ER doctor is a specialized physician who has completed medical school, usually followed by a three to four-year residency in emergency medicine. During this time, an ER doctor trains to assess, diagnose, and treat patients with acute medical conditions

Emergency Medicine Doctors vs. Trauma Surgeons: What’s the Difference?

Trauma surgeons perform surgeries on patients requiring urgent medical attention. While emergency medicine physicians are trained to perform some minimally invasive surgeries when necessary, trauma surgeons are required for more invasive procedures and after-surgery care.

ER doctors diagnose and stabilize patients with acute medical conditions then refer them to specialists. Trauma surgeons ensure ER doctors have more time to see more patients.

How Long Does It Take To Become an Emergency Medicine Doctor?

Becoming an emergency medicine physician is no easy feat and requires considerable perseverance. But if you’re up to the challenge, the results can be gratifying.

It takes at least 11 years after high school to become an emergency medicine physician. This will include four years of undergraduate education and medical school. From there, three to five years of emergency medicine residency. Along the way, you’ll have to take and pass various standardized exams including the SAT, the MCAT, and the USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK.

Undergraduate (4 Years)

The first step to becoming an emergency doctor is entering and completing an undergraduate program. This means taking the SATs and doing well enough to be accepted into a college or university. Once accepted into an undergraduate program, you’ll have to complete a minimum of four years of academic coursework. This includes classes in biology, chemistry, physics, English, and other general education courses.

Medical School (4 Years)

The next step is to take the MCAT, a standardized exam that measures your knowledge and skills in biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology. You’ll need to score well on the MCAT for med school acceptance.

You’ll have to complete four years of academic and clinical training during medical school. This includes classes in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pathology, and other medical topics. You’ll also have to complete clinical rotations at hospitals and other healthcare facilities to gain hands-on experience.

Emergency Medicine Residency (3-4 Years)

After you’ve completed medical school, you’ll have to match into an emergency medicine residency. To do this, you’ll have to take the USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK exams. These exams measure your knowledge and skills in the areas of clinical medicine. Once you’ve passed these exams, you’ll be eligible to apply for residency.

Once you’ve matched into an emergency medicine residency, you’ll have to complete three to five years of clinical training. During this period, you’ll learn how to carry out quick diagnostics and how to treat and deal with several patients simultaneously.

Fellowship (Optional; Usually 1 Year)

You may pursue further training in emergency medicine after completing your residency. Emergency medicine fellowships allow physicians to gain subspecialty expertise. Emergency medicine fellowships are one to two years long. This allows physicians to hone their skills in a specific area of emergency medicine such as hospital administration or pediatrics.

After Emergency Medicine Residency: Licensing + Board Certification

You’ll be eligible to apply for a medical license upon completing your residency. This is a rule for you to practice. You’ll also be able to take the Emergency Medicine Board Certification. Once you pass the certification exam, you’ll become a board-certified emergency medicine doctor. While passing the emergency medicine boards is voluntary, many employers will see this as important – or even necessary.

Becoming an emergency medicine physician takes at least 11 years after high school. It’s a long and arduous process, but if you’re dedicated and passionate, the rewards are worth it.

How Competitive Is It to Become an Emergency Medicine Physician?

Emergency medicine is one of the least competitive specialties in matching into a residency program. Each year, thousands of hopeful medical school graduates apply for a limited number of positions in their preferred specialty. The Match system, run by the National Resident Match Program (NRMP), pairs applicants with training programs based on their preferences.

But how competitive is emergency medicine in the US? To answer this question, it is important to look at the unmatched rates of US seniors by specialty. The unmatched rate refers to the percentage of US seniors who applied for a residency program in that specialty but did not match. It considers each applicant’s first-choice specialty. So, if you applied to a different specialty as a “backup” but didn’t match because you matched in your first choice, this wouldn’t be included. To learn more about how to maximize your chances at a dream residency through “The Match,” see this article.

In the 2022 Match, graduating US medical school seniors attending MD schools had a 1.9% unmatched rate to emergency medicine. This makes it one of the least competitive specialties, alongside child neurology and radiation oncology (each with a 1.9% unmatched rate).

For more on the competitiveness of emergency medicine relative to other medical specialties, see this article.

Emergency Medicine Annual Compensation

Emergency medicine physicians have an average annual salary of $373,000. However, this can vary dramatically based on practice setting, specialty training, and experience level.

Emergency Medicine Doctor Annual Salary

Emergency Medicine Doctors make $373,000 per year on average

How Much Do Emergency Medicine Physicians Make an Hour?

You may also wonder, how much do emergency medicine physicians make per hour? And how is the balance between time inside vs. outside the hospital for the specialty?

While there isn’t perfect data, we’ve compiled data re: hours/weeks worked and annual salary for various specialties, including emergency medicine.

Here are the data:

Average Annual SalaryAverage Hourly SalaryOn-Call ScheduleHours/WeekAvg Weeks Worked/Year
Critical Care$369,000.00$114.9166.9
Diagnostic Radiology$437,000.00$170.46Low5844.2
Emergency Medicine$373,000.00$169.59Medium46.447.4
Family Medicine$255,000.00$101.85Medium52.647.6
General Surgery$402,000.00$141.88High59.447.7
Infectious Diseases$260,000.00$101.44High53.4
Internal Medicine$264,000.00$100.81Medium54.947.7
Interventional Radiology$437,000.00
Neurological Surgery (Assistant Prof. Median)$600,500.00$214.96Medium58.2
Obstetrics and Gynecology$336,000.00$123.26Medium5847
Orthopaedic Surgery$557,000.00$207.91Medium5747
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation$322,000.00$147.7645.4
Plastic Surgery$576,000.00$230.77Medium52
Pulmonary Med$353,000.00$119.77Medium61.4
Radiation Oncology (Assistant Prof. Median)$393,734.00$158.36Low51.8
Total Average$381,233.35$147.4453.9

And the estimated physician salary per hour by specialty (emergency medicine highlighted in red):

Emergency Medicine Doctor Hourly Salary

Emergency Medicine Doctors make $169 an hour on average

Note: when data were unavailable for weeks worked per year, 48 weeks was used as an estimate to calculate the estimated hourly salary.

Does Getting AOA (Med School Honors) Help in Becoming an Emergency Medicine Physician?

Medical school is one of the most challenging aspects of becoming a doctor. Many medical schools have established Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) branches to recognize top students’ hard work and dedication.

Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) is the medical school honors society for students who excel in their studies and show an exemplary commitment to professionalism and leadership. Each medical school may elect up to 20% of their graduating class to be inducted into AOA.

Induction into AOA is a prestigious honor that carries with it a variety of benefits. AOA members may be eligible for special scholarships and fellowships and can often receive priority consideration for residency positions.

The AOA advantage is particularly notable for the most competitive fields and/or residency programs. The 2022 Match data showed that the match rate for US medical school seniors with AOA membership was 1% greater than that of US seniors without AOA membership in emergency medicine. In other words, AOA membership provided a modest advantage to matching into an emergency medicine residency.

AOA Membership Advantage for Emergency Medicine 2022

AOA membership correlated with a 1% match rate advantage for emergency medicine in the 2022 MatchSee this article for more on AOA medical schools and the importance of class rank for matching.

Do You Need to Attend a Top School to Become an Emergency Medicine Physician?

When pursuing a career in emergency medicine, attending a top medical school could make a difference in matching your desired specialty. According to a survey of program directors, over half of those surveyed reported considering applicants’ med school reputation when considering whom to interview, giving it an importance score of 3.5 out of 5.

However, graduating from a school in the top 40 for NIH funding is associated with a 0% increase in the likelihood of matching into emergency medicine as a field. This may be because students from these schools are choosing more competitive specialties such as plastic surgery and orthopedic surgery.

It is important to remember that the name of the school does not guarantee success in any field. While attending a top medical school may have advantages in some specialties, it is ultimately up to the individual to make the most of the opportunities presented. And while there is an advantage to being from a more prestigious institution, one’s record at the school will matter much more, including things like USMLE scores, class rank, and letters of recommendation.

Top 40 med school emergency medicine match 2022

Graduating from a medical school ranked in the top 40 by NIH funding correlated with a 0% match rate advantage for emergency medicine in the 2022 Match

Does an MPH or MBA Help You Become an Emergency Medicine Physician?

Medical training is long and arduous. Many students consider completing other degrees before, after, or even while pursuing their medical studies. Degrees such as Master of Public Health (MPH) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) may seem attractive to potential emergency medicine residents due to their extra qualifications. But do these other degrees give applicants an edge in the residency application process?

The truth is that having an extra degree may not matter as much as one thinks. We crunched the numbers on the match rate for graduating students from MD schools for those with non-PhD other degrees vs. those that did not have a second degree. In emergency medicine, the match rate was 1% lower for those with degrees like an MPH or MBA. This implies that having a second degree that isn’t a Ph.D. doesn’t appear to help your chances of matching into emergency medicine and may even hurt them (slightly).

Emergency Medicine other degree MBA MPH advantage 2022

Having another degree like an MBA or MPH correlated with a -1% match rate disadvantage for emergency medicine in the 2022 Match

It’s important to note that this study only looked at the match rates of medical students with another degree. The data did not look at the type of degree, the school they got it from, or the quality of the applicant’s experience and credentials.

Having a second degree could open up some extra career opportunities. For instance, having an MPH or MBA may prove beneficial for those looking to go into healthcare administration or research.

Concluding Thoughts

Becoming an emergency medicine physician is a challenging but rewarding career path. It is perfect for those who enjoy working in a team, dealing with various patients, and are risk-tolerant. With hard work, dedication, and a desire to help others, emergency medicine doctors can make a real difference in the world of healthcare.

Looking for an Emergency Medicine Residency Advisor?

Are you looking for an emergency medicine residency advisor? Want help writing your personal statement? Need effective strategies for interviewing? Do you have things on your application – e.g., low USMLE scores, failed USMLEs, no research, IMG status, or others – you need help overcoming?

Be sure to check out our Residency Advisor service.




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Want FREE Cardiology Flashcards?

Cardiology is key for impressive USMLE scores. Master cardiology from a Harvard-trained anesthesiologist who scored USMLE 270 with these 130+ high-yield flash cards. You’ll be begging for cardio questions - even if vitals make you queasy.