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Behind the Scenes of the Emergency Room

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Hopefully, you’ve never been rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. But considering there are over 136 million visits to the emergency room in America each year, there’s a possibility that you have been! 

Not everyone who visits the emergency room or an urgent care facility is seriously injured—sometimes it’s an ache, pain, or health concern that comes on slowly or that just won’t go away.

Nearly a third of people (27%) wait less than 15 minutes to be treated by emergency room staff. Some hospitals advertise a short or decreased wait time for their ER since it is a popular belief that if you’re not gravely injured, you might wait hours for treatment. And only 11.9% of visits actually result in the patient being admitted to the hospital—so you may be wondering why people with non-life-threatening issues rush to the ER. Well, since 2 out of every 3 people who visit the ER go during weekends and non-business hours, many people seem to treat the emergency room as somewhat of an off-hours doctor’s office, which may explain the sometimes long wait time.

The most popular reason why people go to the ER is abdominal pain, followed by chest pain and cuts or contusions that need more serious treatment than slapping on a Band-Aid. Surprisingly, a lot of people go to the hospital’s emergency room for headaches—perhaps experiencing a migraine for the first time is enough to send a patient crying out for a doctor! The other reasons that round out the top ten reasons for visiting the ER are back pain or spinal problems; sprains or fractures; upper respiratory infections / constricted breathing / asthma; toothaches; foreign objects in the body (including choking); and skin infections or allergic reactions.

Watch any television show that is set in a hospital, and it’s most likely focused on the emergency room. After all, that’s where all the action happens! But the television portrayal of the ER experience doesn’t always capture the full picture and all the people who go into making the ER run efficiently. You rarely hear of the term ‘triage nurse,’ but it’s reported that 100% of the patients who visit the ER see this medical professional. A triage nurse determines the severity of a patient’s issue and may also take vitals. All patients also see the primary ER nurse who may, among many tasks, clean burns or wounds, administer intravenous fluids, assess neurological symptoms, or inform a patient’s family of their condition. And 87.4% of patients will be seen by the ER’s attending physician, the doctor who is in charge of the ER and some of its procedural practices.

There are plenty of other healthcare professionals in the emergency room who have very different and very specific tasks. An emergency medical technician (EMT) may be responsible for getting the patient to the hospital from their home or the scene of an accident. EKG (electrocardiogram) technicians can record the heart activity of a patient who is experiencing chest pains. A phlebotomist is trained to take blood and an x-ray technician takes and delivers x-rays to doctors in the ER. Someone who’s having trouble breathing may be treated by a respiratory therapist, and someone who is experiencing intense anxiety may be treated by a mental health provider.

Healthcare professionals working in hospital emergency rooms are trained to work as efficiently as possible to treat both patients who are in dire distress and patients whose medical problem are less serious. If the excitement of working in an emergency room gets your adrenaline flowing, you should consider a career in the medical field. Just think—showing up to the emergency room for work is much better than being chauffeured there by an ambulance!

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