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Emergency Medicine

"Emergency medicine involves the immediate care of urgent and life-threatening conditions found in the critically ill and injured. These physicians are really specialists in breadth — their broad-based training encompasses acute problems that span several clinical disciplines. No other specialty can match the astounding variety of patients found within the emergency room. You will see, hear, and smell things that most doctors will not. In just one shift, an EP may care for patients presenting with asthma attacks, atrial fibrillation, gunshot wounds, dislocated shoulders, and even cockroaches stuck in their ears." 

— Freeman, B. (2013). The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Medical Specialty. 3rd Ed. Lange Medical Books/McGraw-Hill: New York. p.189.

M1 and M2 Students

 What advice would you offer first- and second-year students who are interested in pursuing your specialty?

Attend as many Emergency Medicine Interest Group sessions as possible. Sign up to shadow in the ED — nights and weekends are particularly busy shifts. Consider research opportunities in the Department of Emergency Medicine. Contact Dr. Salzman with specialty-related questions. Learn more about the specialty by reviewing topics in key EM journals (Academic Emergency Medicine, Annals of Emergency Medicine).

Strongly consider joining national student groups.

American Academy of Emergency Medicine/Resident and Student section is very inexpensive for medical students; the Scientific Assembly is free for students and is quite useful for M1s/M2s who want exposure to the field. They host a regional meeting for students annually in Chicago at the end of the summer.

The Society for Academic Emergency Medicine also encourages student members. The annual meeting includes a Medical Student Symposium (topics generally focus on the application process for an EM residency) and a Medical Student Ambassador Program (allows students to attend the meeting for free in return for some donated volunteer effort during the conference).

 How important is a research experience in your specialty? If important, does it need to be in the specialty itself?

Important, but not essential. Since many students decide on EM later in their medical school experience, it is common for applicants to have research experience from other fields. If you are interested in doing your AOSC project in the department, please contact Dr. Salzman as early as possible with project ideas so we can determine availability of appropriate mentors. Research experiences in EM definitely sets you apart, at least in that you'll have something to talk about during interviews. Consider the “Reflections” section of AEM for possible publication opportunities without research data. Consider the various medical student grant programs and research competitions.

M3 and M4 Students

 What M4 electives would you recommend to a student who is interested in pursuing your specialty?

  • Cardiology
  • Dermatology
  • Radiology
  • Anesthesiology
  • Orthopedics/sports medicine
  • Ophthalmology
  • Infectious disease
  • Ultrasound
  • ENT
  • Toxicology

Because the practice of EM calls upon knowledge of many specialties, using your fourth year to fill in gaps specific to your experiences is important.

 Does your specialty recommend doing away rotations?

Yes. These rotations should be done after completion of the required FSM EM rotation. We suggest doing the FSM EM clerkship in May or June. This will give you the most flexibility in scheduling an away rotation.

 If your specialty recommends doing away rotations, how many "aways" do you recommend?

One. There may be special circumstances where a student is advised to do an additional away rotation due to very specific geographical or personal constraints.

 If away rotations are necessary, when should they be completed?

Summer 3 at the latest. Applications should be complete and on ERAS by Sept. 15 at the latest. Final letters of recommendation from away rotations should be uploaded as close to or prior to the MSPE release date. Programs may need to be notified of grades and letters available after the MSPE release date.

 Which month do you recommend taking off to interview?

November or December.

 Does your specialty recommend that all letters of recommendation be written by members of your specialty?

No. Ideally you should have one EM letter from our department and one from your away rotation. The other one to two letters should come from clinical faculty on MS3 clerkships that know you well and can describe your individual strengths. A research mentor may also provide a detailed, thoughtful letter about your work ethic and potential for an academic career. The ideal collection of letters is student-specific and will be discussed in greater detail with Dr. Salzman and your advisor.

 If letters can come from other disciplines, do you have a recommendation as to which disciplines are more highly valued?

See above.

 Does the academic rank of the letter writer matter?

Ideally, the majority of the letters should come from faculty who are at least an assistant professor. However, an exceptionally strong letter of recommendation from a faculty member who knows you really well from a clinical instructor is often more impactful than an average letter from a more senior faculty member. As above, the ideal collection of letters is student-specific and will be discussed in greater detail with Dr. Salzman and your advisor.

 Does your specialty require a letter from the chairman?


 Emergency Medicine Specialty Session - Winter / Residency Application Information

During the winter of the M3 year, students should attend the specialty information night sponsored by the Department of Emergency Medicine. This session will describe expected daily life and practice of an emergency physician, as well as allow opportunity to meet attendings and residents.

Request an Emergency Medicine Advisor



David H Salzman, MD, MEd
Emergency Medicine Career Advisor
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For More Information

Department of Emergency Medicine
Northwestern University
Feinberg School of Medicine
211 E. Ontario St.
Suite 200
Chicago, IL 60611