What Is It Like Being An ER Physician?

Working as a scribe has given me the opportunity to work around a lot of Emergency Medicine Physicians.  As a scribe, I followed the ER docs from room to room as they examined patients.  Ultimately, being a scribe has given me hundreds of shadowing hours in the ER. 

Each medical profession is different, offering unique advantages and disadvantages as a career.  This post will outline what it is like to be an ER doctor. 


First and foremost, one of the most attractive aspects of a career as an Emergency Medicine physician is that they do not have to be on call.  

An ER doc is only responsible for his or her scheduled shifts.  This means when you plan on going fishing with your son or taking your boat out on the lake, you can be confident that you won’t be called into the hospital for some emergency.

Being on call has been a culprit for physician burnout, so it makes sense why this aspect of the career appeals to many medical students. 

ER Doctor Annual Salary

The average pay of an ER doc is about $281,580 according to glassdoor.  Definitely a decent paycheck, especially since ER doctors tend to work fewer hours than the average physician. 

How many hours do ER doctors work a week?

According to a couple of the ER doctors that I scribed for, they tend to work closer to 32-35 hours a week which ends up being 40-45 hrs a week when you count all the time you spend after your shift ends charting.  One caveat is that those hours are spent constantly working with little breaks.

However, much less than the 60+ hours a week you would expect as a surgeon!

Because emergency rooms are open 24/7 and shifts can be early in the morning, middle of the day, or overnight, an ER physician can expect to work a varied schedule.  But in a lot of cases, a physician with some seniority in the department can formulate a consistent schedule.  One physician I worked with chose to do only night shifts.  Because of this, she was able to have a consistent Friday through Monday schedule.

ER docs also tend to be more “freelancer” — they usually work where the money is. 

ER doctors

Sometimes doctors will divide up their schedules so that they are working in 2, 3, or even 4 different hospitals.  Some ER docs will even commute as far as a plane ride away for a couple days of shifts and then return home. 

These “traveling ER docs” are helping out hospitals in areas where there is a shortage of physicians.  These sorts of jobs will pay a higher than the normal wage for a physician making it worth the effort of traveling great distances to cover these shifts.

What Is The Practice Like?

Working in the ER is unique in the sense that your job is to simply stabilize the patient and then send them home or admit them to the hospital.  This means that every patient is new, and there are no follow-ups. 

Some doctors might enjoy the idea that you don’t have to worry about a patient after they leave or be let down when it turns out they didn’t listen to them.  Others might prefer to have a longer relationship with their patients and have the satisfaction of observing a long-term improvement. 

ER physicians are also the “jacks of all trades.” 

They do cardio workups, fracture reductions, x-ray analysis, obstetrics, and pretty much any other ailment of the human body.  Granted, an ER physician doesn’t specialize in any of these professions, so they tend not to go too in-depth into a particular subject matter.  That being said, there is an appeal to getting a taste of every practice of medicine.

How Long Does It Take To Become An ER Doctor?

Here is the step by step process of becoming an Emergency Medicine physician.


First, you must obtain a bachelor’s degree.  Most premed students will choose to major in biology or chemistry but the reality is you can major in whatever subject you want.

You will have to take the necessary premed prerequisites required by medical schools.  This is not only important for getting into medical school but also important for having a solid foundation for what is about to come in your studies.


Prior to applying to medical school, you will need to take the MCAT. This exam requires you to devote at least a month to study.  Many premeds will even study as long as 6 months for this exam.

This is possibly the biggest hurdle you will have to face as a premed.  Make sure you prepare well so that you will not have to retake the MCAT.

Related post: Best MCAT Prep Books.

Apply to Medical School:

The application for Medical School is a year-long process.  You want to make sure you apply early. 

The first day you can apply to Texas medical schools (Through the TMDSAS) is May 1st.  The first day you can start the application to the rest of the MD schools in the country (Through the AMCAS) is May 1st and the first day you can submit your application through AMCAS is June 1st.  For DO schools you will apply through AACOMAS and this application can be submitted the beginning of May.

Medical School applications are detailed and will require a personal statement, letters of recommendation, an MCAT score, and a list of all the extracurriculars and volunteer work you did throughout college.

After completing and submitting the primary application, most medical schools will then invite you to complete a secondary application with extra essay questions.

All medical schools will provide deadlines to submit an application from September all the way through March.  Forget about these deadlines. You need to make sure you submit everything during the Summer at the start of the application cycle.  The earlier the better.

Medical School:

Medical School will take 4 years to complete.  Usually, this involves 2 years of courses and 2 years of clinicals.  During your clinicals you will rotate in an ER.  Make sure to take lots of notes and make a good impression to the ER physicians (You never know who will be involved in your residency acceptance decision!)

Make sure to work hard and get good grades.  An Emergency Medicine residency is competitive!


During Medical School you will take the USMLE.  This is a 3-part exam required to obtain a license to practice as a physician in the US.


Residency is where you will train to be an ER doc.  Emergency Medicine residencies take 3-4 years and include intense training at a teaching hospital.  As an ER resident, you will face the challenges of being an ER physician under the supervision of an attending.

Following residency, and ER physician will have to become board certified.  You will become board certified through either the American Osteopathic Board of Emergency Medicine (AOBEM) and the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS)


Following residency, an ER physician can decide whether he or she wants to begin working his or her career or spend an extra 1-2 years in a fellowship program.  During the fellowship program, an ER doc can choose a subspecialty such as disaster emergency or pediatrics.


Emergency medicine is a stable job that offers experience across a vast array of medicinal specialties.  ER doctors are in high demand right now so finding a job will not be a challenge.  The training process is long and difficult, but the career is very rewarding.  Definitely a route to consider if you’re looking for a secure future. 

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