Having a week of my Emergency Medicine experience under my belt, I’m sure I totally qualify as a veteran.
With my novice eyes-here are some observations and thoughts.
1. ER Docs aren’t your family docs or internists: Just yesterday I saw a lady with a slightly elevated blood pressure who’d been sent in by her visiting nurse because she hadn’t taken her medicine and needed a checkup. Talking to the patient revealed that she needed to follow up with her PCP who she’d not been able to see in a few months, and the nurse had figured that the ER would do that for her. The thing is the ER is a place for emergency care. If you’re having a heart attack, a stroke, delivering your baby, got hit by a baseball bat you need the ER. If you need a checkup and the wait times are too long at your PCP then the ER isn’t the best place for you. Between the traumas, the people with heart attacks and strokes and all the rest you’re not going to get the care you need.
2. Emergency Medicine is based on treating or ruling out emergencies: If you’re entering your EM rotation your attending wants two things from you on the differential- the bad things that could kill you and what it probably is. They’re far more worried about your chest pain being a heart attack and ruling it out before they send you home, consequently what could likely be something benign like a strained muscle can be treated once we’re sure it’s not a heart attack.
3. Not every patient in the ED will have (or needs) a diagnosis: As gratifying as most physicians find it to get an answer they can hang their hats on, the ER is often not the place for it. You’d like to, in an ideal world, figure out what’s going on with a patient but realistically when there’s a 3.5 hour waiting and 40 patients outside in the waiting room with a couple of traumas rolling in and the guy in bed 4 actively seizing you prioritize. That ends up leaving some of the things that need to be worked up on an outpatient basis as just that- waiting to be worked up outpatient. The ER is an incredibly expensive place to receive medical care as is the hospital in general so ED physicians try to judiciously use resources.
4. Sometimes people will hate you: The ER is a busy place, and there are always people you’ll be admitting. Often when you’re admitting someone to a service the resident on staff may be flabbergasted that your history and details didn’t include a more detailed family, social or physical exam- and that’s fair from their perspective. The problem comes, from an ED perspective a lot of those questions and answers won’t change an initial management. Secondly, anyone who’s causing your already busy workload to increase is likely not going to be your favorite person. For that reason, you may have the odd consultant who doesn’t jump for joy each time you call. That’s okay though. As long as the patient ends up being cared for.
5. Emergency Medicine is heavily weighted towards management: Something I learned the hard way in a simulation session is that EM is a heavy management specialty. The traditional paradigm is for one to get a history, do a physician, collect an assessment and make a plan. In EM- you start with a plan then you keep going. And you modify your plan as you go. It seems rather obvious but if someone is coming in with chest pain that could be a heart attack you don’t want to spend 30 minutes getting a history and physical while the guy is actively losing heart muscle. Obvious it may be- it’s often challenging to make the switch from sitting and talking before you’re touching the patient and doing things to them. That said- 1 week in I’m already beginning to talk to, examine and treat my patients simultaneously.
In case you were curious I’m going to go into EM. Aka: