I’m an ER doc

Over the past year, the first 10 doctors in our inaugural emergency medicine residency program have been hard at work in University Hospital’s Emergency Department, developing new skills and perfecting old ones. I couldn’t be more pleased with them. When they leave here, they’ll make top notch ER docs — one of the most in-demand specialties in medicine.

I really like the term ER doc. There’s kind of a debate about this in our profession, but about half of us insist on being called emergency medicine physicians. They tend to be the academic types. But I prefer the term ER doc. Because what it says is, I’m taking care of an entire room — the patients in there and the staff and the nurses and the techs. I’m helping to coordinate all that care and bring it together for one cause – to take care of a sick patient.

I’ve always felt that ER doctors and ER nurses know whether they belong or they don’t in the first five minutes they’re here. Some walk in and see chaos and say, no thanks, I think I’m better suited to the operating room or the ICU. But when they walk in and see the action and the challenges, when they see excitement and teamwork — those people were born for the ER.

It’s the adrenalin; it’s the challenge of never knowing what the next case is. We’re not a nephrology clinic where I know the next case is going to have something to do with a kidney. The next case could be a kidney, it could be a gunshot wound, it could be a sick kid, it could be dental cavities — we even take care of dental emergencies. We’re available for anything.

But I think the other part of it that really appeals to people is teamwork. It’s that teamwork that attracts a lot of ER docs. And as we interview candidates to become emergency medicine residents, all of them have great board scores, everybody’s got great grades — they’re all outstanding citizens. We wouldn’t even bring them in for the interviews if they weren’t. What we’re looking for is, can they work on a team? Can they think on their feet? Can we trust them with a difficult case at 2 in the morning?

Of course, every specialty has its stereotype. The classic stereotype of an ER doc is someone who likes dangerous outdoor activities like mountain biking or parachuting, and has an attention deficit disorder of some sort. That may be closer to the truth than we’d like. I’m always getting in trouble at home because I’m having a conversation with my spouse, and I’m also checking my email and clicking through my iPad and reading the newspaper and talking to her. I think I’m doing all four just fine.

Dr. Bruce Adams is chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center and University Hospital