If you want to work in one of the highest-paying medical specialties, emergency medicine could be worth a look. Providing care to a diverse patient population presenting with medical emergencies and urgent problems is a challenging role in the field of medicine. To be a good emergency room doctor, you would benefit from having or developing resilience, stability and the flexibility needed for safe and successful multitasking.
Resiliency and Stability
In a peer-reviewed study published in the BMJ’s Emergency Medicine Journal, researchers identified the traits resiliency and stability as being found in between 50 and 70 percent of emergency physicians and paramedics. Resiliency and stability are separate character traits, but they are often related.
Stability means that you’re not prone to changes and variance in your mood or personality, according to the American Psychological Association. Having emotional stability is so important in emergency medicine because you will see upsetting things constantly in your line of work. Being able to keep calm even when a patient is coding allows you to proceed with work that could save their lives, while getting upset or panicking may prevent you from performing those lifesaving medical interventions.
Resiliency refers to your ability to adjust, adapt, bounce back and grow when confronted with stress and adversity, according to the American Psychological Association. Your resiliency as an emergency medicine physician will affect you personally as well as professionally. Seeing your share of traumas is unavoidable in the emergency department, where victims may present with bullet wounds, stab wounds, catastrophic injuries from an accident or severe heart attacks and strokes. Seeing distressed and sometimes desperate family members can wear on you, especially when you aren’t able to save the patient despite your best efforts.
While on the job, being resilient may mean that, when one attempt or intervention doesn’t work, you quickly pivot to the next alternative. Wasting even precious seconds feeling frustrated or discouraged could mean the difference between saving a person’s life, limb or function and losing it. When complications arise, your resilience will help you power through and maintain morale as you manage the care of numerous patients, each in an emergency condition. Doctors who are resilient are also less likely to suffer burnout and better able to overcome symptoms of physician burnout, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians
Although having some degree of natural resilience is helpful, resilience can also be learned and cultivated through experience. Mental training to help you develop resiliency skills and reframe thought patterns is one part of addressing the problem of physician burnout.
Flexibility and Multitasking Skills
When you work in an ever-changing environment like the emergency room, flexibility is one of the most important characteristics to have. In a study of the personality traits of emergency room residents, higher scores in flexibility were one of the differences that distinguished ER residents from residents in other specialties, according to research published in the journal AEM Education and Training. Other findings in this study included being team-oriented, vigilant and good at hands-on learning.
This flexibility is vital to one of the most crucial skills in emergency medicine: multitasking. Unlike surgeons whose time in the operating room is blocked off for a single patient, emergency room doctors must balance the needs of many patients at once. The volume of your caseload, the variety of conditions you must treat and even the needs of each individual patient are unpredictable from one hour to the next.
It’s not uncommon for one emergency medicine physician to have a caseload of 20 or more patients to manage, all of whom are in urgent need of serious medical intervention, according to the University of Utah Health. As you’re trying to stabilize a patient with a critical illness or perform a lifesaving intervention for one patient, interruptions keep coming at you. Without the flexibility to shift gears seamlessly and address the most crucial problems as they arise, multitasking in the ER can be overwhelming.
A big part of multitasking safely and effectively is finding ways to work more efficiently or “smarter,” Emergency Physicians Monthly reported. Another important piece of the multitasking puzzle is looking at the details. Paying close attention to details can let a doctor know when something is starting to destabilize or go wrong with a patient before it becomes a crisis.
In the ER, finding a balance is essential. Through experience, emergency medicine doctors learn when to be flexible and when to advocate for their patients. They also discover where the line is between vigilance and obsession over risks and worst-case scenarios.