Why Emergency Medicine? A medical student’s reflection

why emergency medicine - nada radulovic - canada

As the Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS) application cycle approaches for the Class of 2020 in Canada, I have been reflecting on the common question of “Why Emergency Medicine (EM)?” This has encouraged me to consider all aspects of the specialty that I love, as well as some of the perceived challenges of pursuing EM residency training. Additionally, I have been asked about advice for medical students interested in exploring EM, mainly from those beginning medical school or clerkship this month. So, in an attempt at a personal reflection exercise, I am also hoping to provide some practical points for consideration for any medical student thinking about exploring this wonderful specialty.

Some of the reasons why I love Emergency Medicine:



From the clinical presentations and various procedures, to the patients and team members working in the emergency department, I am constantly drawn to the multifaceted and dynamic nature of EM. Speaking to well-seasoned staff physicians, this versatility has them constantly learning and encountering new things. During my first EM shift of clerkship, the first patient of the day came in with atrial fibrillation, the second was hypothermic and without vital signs, the third had lower back pain, and the fourth presented with a COPD exacerbation. The range in presentations and levels of acuity are something that greatly appeal to me and allow for constant growth in Medicine. This diversity provides endless opportunities to learn new things in the setting of, at times, very limited information and time.



Opportunities for subspecialization

EM offers several formal opportunities to find your niche within the specialty, in the form of fellowships. These areas include ultrasound, trauma, resuscitation and reanimation, critical care, toxicology, pediatric EM, disaster medicine, and medical education. This is not an exhaustive list and will vary depending on where you are training. The Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians has developed an accessible directory for enhanced competencies: https://caep.ca/em-community/resident-section/enhanced-competency-directory/




One long-standing interest of mine throughout my post-secondary education has been Population and Global Health. Therefore, something that I really appreciate about EM is its portability. EM is present in an array of settings, from rural to large academic centers. This flexibility allows you to tailor your practice to your interests, both within and outside of Medicine. In a recent post by one of iEM’s blog authors, Dr. Ibrahim Sarbay, 82 countries were identified as recognizing EM as a primary specialty. See “Countries Recognize Emergency Medicine as a Specialty” for a breakdown of countries: https://iem-student.org/2019/05/13/countries-recognize-emergency-medicine/)



Working with vulnerable populations

This is something that continues to draw me to EM, as the emergency department serves as an entry point into the healthcare system for some individuals. Throughout my rotations, I have been privileged to work with various patients, and have found myself constantly inspired from learning about their unique challenges within the healthcare system, as well as the various interventions that have been developed to target social determinants of health at institutional and systemic levels. While there is considerable work that still needs to be done to address these disparities, I continue being fascinated with the various advancements that are underway. This has additionally expanded my understanding of humanity and has forced me to reflect on how I approach clinical interactions. Overall, it has allowed for considerable growth within Medicine and on a personal level. This continues to be one of the aspects of EM that I truly value most. 

Vulnerable Populations

Perceived challenges

I need to preface this by saying that it may be difficult to truly appreciate challenges of any specialty from solely experiencing it through the role of a medical student. However, these are points that I consider challenges of EM-based on my personal experiences during several EM rotations, as well as through discussion with residents and staff physicians.


Physician burnout

A recent study in JAMA by Dyrbye et al. (2018) surveyed second-year resident physicians in the United States. Their findings indicated a burnout prevalence (based on the Maslach Burnout Inventory) of 53.8% of surveyed EM residents. While EM did not exhibit the highest burnout rate (Urology, 63.8%; Neurology, 61.6%; Ophthalmology, 55.8%), it was on the higher end for specialties that were assessed. [1] The topics of burnout and wellness promotion have become fairly pronounced in the EM community. EM Cases released an episode in 2017 regarding burnout prevention and wellness during EM training, that featured Dr. Sara Gray and Chris Trevelyan. Link: https://emergencymedicinecases.com/preventing-burnout-promoting-wellness-emergency-medicine/


Practicing “fishbowl medicine”

I have heard this term thrown around quite a bit, alluding to the fact that specialties are observing the way that EM physicians are managing patients. The fishbowl effect reflects the tendency of a specialist in other disciplines to compare the actions of EM physicians to the standards of practice that are held in the setting of those specialists (e.g., the operating room, the specialty clinics, etc.). [2] While I recognize that this can occasionally cause conflict between groups, I personally love the multidisciplinary nature of EM and view the collaborative efforts with other specialties as further opportunities for growth regarding my understanding of various disease processes and overall management of patients. Dr. Sheldon Jacobson published an interesting reflection of how this concept can actually be viewed positively within the practice of EM [2]. 


Everyone has personal reasons for pursuing any specialty, and for many, the reasons for pursuing EM run deeper than those listed above. However, these are just some of the factors that I believe to be basic and practical considerations for this specialty. EM makes me excited to expand upon my knowledge base in Medicine, to constantly learn and better my understanding of the human condition, and to be a part of the supportive environment that multidisciplinary EM teams create. It is an ever-expanding field and I hope to one day be able to contribute to it in a meaningful way. I could go on and on about why I love the specialty, well beyond the limits of a blog post – I may be a little biased, but EM is pretty great!

References and Further Reading

  1. Dyrbye LN, Burke SE, Hardeman RR et al. Association of Clinical Specialty with Symptoms of Burnout and Career Choice Regret Among US Resident Physicians. JAMA. 2018 Sep;320(11):1114-1130.
  2. Jacobson S. The Fishbowl Effect. Acad Emerg Med, 2015 Oct;12(10):956-957.

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Cite this article as: Nada Radulovic, "Why Emergency Medicine? A medical student’s reflection," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, August 30, 2019, https://iem-student.org/2019/08/30/why-emergency-medicine-a-medical-students-reflection/, date accessed: November 11, 2019

Point-of-Care Resources in the ED

Point-of-Care Resources in the ED

In the era of Free Open-Access Medical education, there are countless invaluable resources available for medical learners. Over the years, they have been designed and optimized for more portable use, with the possibility of serving as on-the-go resources for trainees. Having just completed my third year of medical school – and also, my first year of clerkship – I have discovered several point-of-care tools that have proven to be immensely useful in the emergency department (ED). 

Not only have they been wonderful for obtaining quick information and have helped guide my history-taking, physical examinations, differential diagnoses and management, but they have also helped me learn through repetition using the same sources of information.

The majority of these are available both online and as mobile applications, so they are very accessible in the ED setting when you have multiple patients on the go with a variety of concerns.​

Below are a few that I have found particularly helpful this past year. As always, these resources are designed purely as clinical aids and are not meant to replace clinical judgment.

For accessibility purposes, I have only included free resources; however, some do offer additional features that are available for purchase. I have no affiliation with any of these and am commenting solely on the basic features that are available.


by Sentral Clinical Research Services, LLC
Download: Google Play l Apple

QuickEM features a list of common adult and pediatric complaints, ranging from syncope to hematuria. For each presentation, it lists considerations for histories, physicals, differentials, investigations, treatments and disposition. There is also a tool which facilitates the calculation of various useful parameters, such as QTc and Well’s score for DVT and PE. One unique component of this application is that it provides clinical pearls at the end of each topic and allows you to make personalized notes for each presentation, which you can refer back to. Additionally, a list of references is provided for further review. Overall, QuickEM breaks down a broad range of presentations into essential components, and has served as a very useful and quick EM-specific resource.


by MD Aware, LLC
Download: Google Play l Apple
Website: https://www.mdcalc.com/

MDCalc can be used online or through a mobile application. It has a long list of formulae which can be sorted by specialty (unsurprisingly, there are quite a few for EM!). One really great feature is the “favorites” section, which allows you to add specific formulae to your folder for easier reference. Once you’ve done the calculation, there is also a section that addresses subsequent investigation and management steps, as well as an evidence section that highlights the associated studies behind the formula. Overall, not only has it helped me easily calculate parameters, but it has also expanded my knowledge base by addressing the reasoning behind commonly-used clinical measures.


by LineageMedical Inc.
Download: Google Play l Apple
Website: https://www.orthobullets.com/

Orthobullets has been a staple resource throughout my Orthopedic Surgery block and then during my EM rotations for musculoskeletal-related presentations. It includes an extensive list of topics and outlines relevant anatomy, pathology, differential diagnosis, investigations and management, while also highlighting specific surgical techniques. Moreover, it includes a question bank, sample cases and educational videos, all of which are excellent for general MSK review. It can be downloaded onto your phone for easier, on-the-go use, but it does require you to register for an account (free) if you would like to access the additional features (cases, question bank, videos, etc.).


by National Health Care Provide Solutions, LLC
Download: Google Play l Apple

I started using this mobile application as a quick review before going into the simulation lab during my EM rotations. It provides easy access to numerous ACLS, BLS and PALS algorithms that can be viewed as images or approached using an interactive step-by-step feature. There are also some embedded instructional videos to consolidate all of the content. Not only does this application allow you to flip through various algorithms fairly effortlessly, but it also lets you test your knowledge and identify areas for further review through multiple-choice questionnaires.

By no means is this an exhaustive list – there are so many wonderful resources out there that I have not mentioned and that I have yet to discover! These are just several that I have regularly used and that have come up repeatedly through discussion with my colleagues. What are some point-of-care resources that have been invaluable to your education and have been helpful throughout your rotations? We would love to hear about them!

Cite this article as: Nada Radulovic, "Point-of-Care Resources in the ED," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, June 5, 2019, https://iem-student.org/2019/06/05/point-of-care-resources-in-the-ed/, date accessed: November 11, 2019