How to Get Involved in Emergency Medicine

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • According to the 2020 National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) Program Director Survey, emergency medicine program directors rank “perceived commitment to specialty” as #6 out of 38 factors for selecting applicants to interview, topped only by USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK scores, personal statements, and standardized letters from emergency medicine faculty (SLOEs) and medical school deans (MSPEs).

    Medical students often ask, “How can I get involved in emergency medicine if I’m just a medical student?” Believe it or not, there are tons of ways that future emergency physicians can show commitment to the specialty both before and during medical school. Here are some surefire ways to get the experience you’ll need to confidently apply, interview and eventually match into emergency medicine!

    How Can I Show a Commitment to Emergency Medicine as a Pre-Med?

    Shadowing and volunteering are two great ways to pursue your interest in Emergency Medicine. What does an emergency physician actually do? Most of us have seen at least one episode of E.R., Scrubs, or Grey’s Anatomy, but do TV medical dramas really portray the specialty of EM with complete accuracy?

    Chances are, you’re going to want to get some experience for yourself to see if this career in medicine is the right fit for you. This can be accomplished in several ways before you even matriculate into medical school:

    1. Shadowing an emergency physician: If you happen to know an emergency physician (relative, family friend, etc.), try using those contacts to arrange a shadowing experience in which you can gain some observational knowledge of what an emergency medicine doctor does in their day-to-day professional life. You can also try getting set up with a shadowing opportunity through your undergraduate institution, depending on the available resources and facilities. Use the opportunity to pick their brain (during down time between patients, of course) and ask them questions about the lifestyle to see if it jives with your expectations and goals as a future physician.
    2. Volunteering in a hospital emergency department: Being a hospital volunteer in the emergency department gives you an insider view of the inner workings of the department, and allows you to interact with the faculty and staff on a more personal level. Most volunteer jobs can be arranged around school or work hours, and provide a longitudinal opportunity to observe and learn about the specialty while doing a bit of hands-on work yourself. You won’t be starting any IVs or doing chest compressions, but you might be wheeling patients back and forth to imaging, grabbing warm blankets or food for family members, or assisting with cleaning. While it doesn’t sound glamorous, these are some of the most essential tasks in medicine, and the department couldn’t function without them!
    3. Working as an Emergency Department scribe: One of the best ways to make lasting connections with emergency physicians, learn about medical terminology, and see all sorts of interesting patients and procedures is to work as an Emergency Department scribe. A scribe is usually attached to one provider at the hip and follows them around during their shift to chart on a portable computer while the physician sees their patients, and in doing so, gets a firsthand look into the daily workflow of an ED doctor. This is a hands-off job (i.e. you are there to chart only, not touch or treat patients) but there will be plenty of learning opportunities as emergency physicians often can’t resist a teaching moment when their patient presents with an interesting pathology. If you prefer to take on an active role in the treatment of patients, working as a nurse, EMT or paramedic is an incredible way to develop your medical knowledge while learning how to perform critical skills that are essential to the practice of emergency medicine. Keep in mind that these roles will require additional education (ex: 4 years for a Bachelors of Science in Nursing, 2 years for an Associates Degree in Paramedicine), so this is something you would have to think about many years in advance of applying to medical school.

    How to Get Involved in Emergency Medicine During Medical School

    Other than making sure that you obtain at least one emergency medicine rotation during your clinical years, there are two main ways to get involved with the emergency medicine community as a medical student that show a longitudinal commitment to the specialty: being active in your medical school’s emergency medicine interest group (EMIG) and joining the various emergency medicine national organizations.

    “But what if I never set foot in an Emergency Department prior to medical school?” No problem! Not everyone has the time, means, or desire to do any of the above activities before starting medical school, and that’s perfectly okay. You will have plenty of time to find your niche in the emergency medicine world; this certainly does not have to be determined beforehand.

    Emergency Medicine Interest Groups

    The Emergency Medicine Interest Group (EMIG) is a fantastic way to become actively involved with like-minded medical students and get exposure to everything that the specialty has to offer through participation in clinical skill workshops, guest lectures, and other club events.

    Many EMIGs are able to utilize the skills of their medical student members who previously worked as nurses, EMTs, paramedics, and physician assistants prior to medical school by having them teach workshops in their particular skill set so that students can learn from peers in a low-stress environment.

    EMIGs also frequently feature alumni guest speakers who have successfully matched into emergency medicine and are able to share important advice about the residency application cycle and life as an intern and beyond.

    Finally, EMIGs provide an invaluable opportunity to gain leadership experience during medical school by serving on the group’s executive board. Program directors value these types of experiences because it not only shows a strong commitment to the specialty, but that the applicant is able to balance the academic demands of medical school while pursuing their personal passions.

    National Emergency Medicine Organizations

    There are three major national emergency medicine organizations, each with their own corresponding resident and medical student association, that offer many opportunities to get involved at every level of training. Each organization has multiple committees focused on every subspecialty of emergency medicine that you can imagine—from toxicology, to wilderness medicine, to health policy and advocacy—in which medical students can participate as project contributors, medical student representatives or even chairs or vice chairs.

    All three organizations also hold an annual conference (scientific assembly) that offers countless opportunities for medical students to network with professionals in the field. There is significant overlap between the three organizations, but each showcases enough unique offerings that it would be advisable for the interested emergency medicine-bound medical student to join all three!

    American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP)/Emergency Medicine Residents Association (EMRA)

    ACEP is the oldest, largest, and most robust emergency medicine organization with 38,000 physician, resident, and medical student members. Both domestic and international medical students may join ACEP with a joint EMRA membership for $60/year.

    New members with a US address receive a new member kit filled with pocket cards and resource guides to use on shift, and all members enjoy complimentary access to a plethora of outstanding educational resources such as the EM:RAP podcast, and the Annals of Emergency Medicine journal, opportunities to become a published author in EM Resident magazine, deep discounts on learning platforms such as Rosh Review, and special medical school loan refinancing rates from Laurel Road.

    EMRA members also have access to a large database of advising resources including monthly EMRA Hangouts webinars on crucial medical student topics and the EMRA Match interactive residency and clerkship exploration tool.

    In addition to this host of benefits, EMRA offers countless opportunities to be actively involved in the organization. The EMRA Medical Student Council (MSC) consists of 25 medical student leaders in emergency medicine who work together during a one-year term to increase medical student awareness and involvement in the specialty, plan conference activities, and participate in advocacy for medical student members of EMRA.

    Applications for the EMRA MSC are due each year on December 1st. Students can also join one of EMRA’s 18 committees and earn their leadership stripes by serving as a vice chair while still enrolled in medical school.

    American Academy of Emergency Medicine (AAEM)/Residents and Students Association (RSA):

    AAEM is a similar democratic organization to ACEP, focusing on promoting fair and equitable practice environments for emergency physicians. Membership in the AAEM Residents and Students Association (RSA) is free for the first year, followed by dues of $40/year for domestic medical students and $30/year for international medical students.

    Medical student members are also able to join certain AAEM sections such as Critical Care Medicine, Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Ultrasound, and Women in Emergency Medicine free of charge, as well as local chapter divisions in certain states.

    Student members receive a new member box filled with a bedside ultrasound guide, USB drive loaded with RSA resources, trauma shears, stethoscope holder, and a snap charging cable.

    RSA offers free access to publications such as medical student survival guides and the Common Sense member magazine, as well as free or discounted access to multiple academic resources such as EM:RAP podcast, ECG Weekly by Dr. Amal Mattu, and HippoEM. RSA members can attend the annual AAEM Scientific Assembly for free with a refundable deposit, which includes medical student symposia and other conference activities specifically geared towards students.

    There are also multiple avenues for gaining leadership experience, such as becoming an AAEM/RSA representative at your medical school or working as a medical student ambassador at the annual conference.

    Society for Academic Emergency Medicine (SAEM)/Residents and Medical Students (RAMS):

    SAEM places a strong emphasis on development of academic emergency medicine, including research, education, career development and advancement of patient care. The journal Academic Emergency Medicine is their official publication.

    Medical students may join SAEM under the Residents and Medical Students (RAMS) association for $25/year. Medical student members have access to a host of advising and educational resources, recorded webinars on medical student topics such as matching into EM, and member-only scholarships and grants.

    Medical students can take advantage of professional development opportunities as members in one of the 12 RAMS committees or as a medical student representative on the RAMS Board. Members also have the opportunity to volunteer as medical student ambassadors for the SAEM annual meeting.

    Emergency Medicine on Social Media

    Finally, in addition to gaining clinical experience before medical school and participating in emergency medicine organizations during your pre-clinical and clinical years, social media provides a unique opportunity for medical students to network with emergency physicians and residency programs that would otherwise be unreachable due to geographic constraints.

    Twitter is the social media platform of choice for emergency physicians, and you will find virtually unlimited information and networking opportunities by searching through hashtags such as #MedTwitter, #MedStudentTwitter, #EMbound, and #FOAMed (“Free Open Access Medical Education”). Always remember to keep things professional when using social media for anything medical school-related!