Frequently Asked Questions

Emergency Medicine Questions

Can you describe a typical day?
I arrive at my shift and take handover from the doctor going home, noting all the things that need to be completed. I start seeing patients, beginning with the sickest, and frequently reassess them as I take care of the less acute patients. I see a trauma patient, do a shoulder reduction, assess a short-of-breath 95-year-old lady, suture a laceration, thrombolyze an MI, decide if someone is suicidal, and eat when I can. After my eight-hour shift, I stay an extra hour or two to clean up.
How do you see your discipline changing over the next decade?

The next 10 years in emergency medicine will be both exciting and trying. Overcrowding in particular has become a key issue, preventing emergency physicians from providing the best care possible. Emergency physicians, through organizations such as the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians (CAEP), are actively combating this problem.

Patients are presenting to EDs with greater acuity, and the overall population is aging. We are being called upon to "up the ante" and become the true foundation of our medical system. Emergency Medicine is leading the way in evidence-based medicine, and while it seems our scope of practice is constantly changing and expanding, as a specialty our role as medical leaders is becoming more defined.

How well does your specialty accommodate family life?

Shift work has its bonuses and drawbacks. Although you may have to work two out of four weekends and some holidays, you have days off during the week. During these times, you may pick up your child from school, do your errands during business hours.

With shift work, staff often "stack" 4 or 5 together in order to take an extended number of days off. Further, staff can usually trade shifts easily to accommodate various circumstances.

One of the best things about shift work is that when you leave the hospital, no one calls or pages you. Your free time is free time.

What are the best things about your specialty?
  • Diversity of problems and patients.
  • Very much acute care medicine.
  • Front-line work allows us to see undifferentiated patients not yet assessed by another physician.
  • Flexible work hours and areas of interest.
  • Shift work as opposed to being "on call."
  • Great mix of procedural skills and problem solving.
  • We are true patient advocates, and work hard to get the best care for the people we see.
  • Flexible hours and time for family and outside interests.
What are the worst things about your specialty?
  • In our cross-sectional specialty, our consultants often have a deeper understanding of our cases than we do.
  • Lack of follow-up.
  • Shift work can be a tough adjustment, especially if you share a life with people who work 9 to 5.
What types of clinical cases do you commonly see?
All kinds of cases, from pediatrics to geriatrics, trauma to orthopedics, Infectious Diseases to Critical Care. Most cases are of a higher acuity.
Why did you choose your specialty?
  • "I like to multitask and I fit in well with the mentors I have met."
  • "High acuity and variety."
  • "I liked every rotation in medical school and could not imagine only working in one narrow field."
  • "Shift work is great and I never have to carry a pager. I can go skiing in the middle of the week when there are no crowds."

Postgraduate (Residency) Program Questions

Advantages of the FRCPS program over the CFPC-EM program:
  • - Allows more for interest in a subspecialty of Emergency Medicine (ie. toxicology, sports, medical education, critical care, clinical epidemiology, pediatric EM, etc).
  • - More time to explore niche areas (ie. neurosurgery, CCU senior, medicine senior, ophthalmology, radiology, dermatology, women's health, ultrasound, etc).
  • - Easier route to becoming an academic physician/leader in Emergency Medicine.
  • - Easier route to get a job in an academic centre.
Are there sufficient elective opportunities during training in the FRCPS program to explore your special interests?
As indicated above, our program contains ample elective time. Residents may place 12 months of elective together to obtain some subspecialty training (eg. toxicology) or pursue a Master's level degree.
Disadvantages of RCPSC Emergency Medicine Program vs. CCFP(EM) Program:
  • You don't get a family medicine license (loss of flexibility).
  • Loss of income with extra two years of study.
  • Longer time spent in residency.
How competitive is it to get in, and then to succeed in your field?

The consistently high calibre of applicants makes entry into the field challenging, but shows that the future of Emergency Medicine is bright.

Applicants are usually very well rounded and dedicated, but you don't have to be a Nobel Prize winner.

How is your residency program organized (ie. year by year breakdown and schedule of rotations)?
Refer to the FRCPS or CFPC-EM section of our resident website for details. There are two routes to ER training. The CCFP-EM route consists of two years of a family medicine residency then one year of ER. The RCPSC route is a five-year residency, with more than one year of elective time to pursue additional interests.
Is there active and/or required research in your residency program?

The Department of Emergency Medicine is actively involved in EM research at local, national, and international levels. Current areas of research include ED overcrowding, acute asthma/COPD care, pediatric CT head rules, and various studies in pre-hospital care, air medical transport, and medical education. We are very proud to be home the University of Alberta Emergency Medicine Research Group, led by Dr. Brian Rowe, the Canada research chair in emergency airway diseases and an internationally respected EM researcher.

Each resident is expected to take part in some form of scholarly project during their training years. This project is defined as "the production and dissemination of academic education or research materials suitable for dissemination at a national or international level." The Department of Emergency Medicine Research Program provides support for these activities. During the PGY-2 year, residents participate in an Emergency Medicine Research Module, which includes a one-week research methodology course. The rest of the module is designed for the resident to start a feasible research project to be completed by the end of residency.

We also have specific Evidence Based Medicine Rounds and Journal Club every month. Mentors help us learn to critically appraise the literature and practice evidence based medicine.

Specifically is there a list of residents whom we can call or email?
Contact our program administrator, Jenni Marshall at
What can a potential candidate do now in order to be an appealing applicant to your program?
  • Show your interest in contributing to our program. Do an elective in emergency medicine in various cities in Canada and abroad.
  • Get letters of reference from emergency physicians if you can.
  • Participate in a project related to emergency medicine (contact the EM research office) if you enjoy research.
  • Be yourself around the residents and staff in our department.
  • Attend a local or national emergency medicine conference to gain further exposure to our discipline
What distinguishes the U of A program from other programs?
Our program has a strong, supportive group of residents and staff physicians. Also, the two Emergency Medicine Programs work closely with each other. Our program contains great flexibility and support for those who choose to pursue specific areas of interest in emergency medicine whether it be research, critical care, EMS medical direction or just about anything relevant.
What do you look for specifically in a competitive candidate?
  • You work well in a team, especially as a leader.
  • You are well-rounded.
  • You adapt quickly to all situations.
  • You are compassionate and caring with patients.
  • You work hard and contribute to making the program better.
  • You can apply your knowledge and skills in a variety of situations
What is the FRCPS residency program's orientation and focus?

The FRCPS program is very focused on building competent academic emergency physicians. Academic half-day, journal club, various rounds, clinical learning and specific exam preparation in your final year of training allow you every opportunity for success on your Royal College certification exam.

In addition, the CanMEDS competencies form an essential part of our evaluation scheme, ensuring that you become a complete physician. We aim to produce leaders in the field of emergency medicine in our own city, our country, and internationally.

What is the on-call schedule during each year of residency?
Call is really only an issue during the first three years of residency, when we do the majority of our off-service rotations. Call requirements are outlined in our current contract, negotiated by PARA, our professional resident body. Current call regulations dictate that a resident do no more than one in four in-house calls or 1 in 3 home calls, and no more than two of four weekends.
What local, national or international conferences would benefit candidates interested in your residency program?
The annual conference of Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians (CAEP) includes a dedicated Medical Student Symposium where students learn about career opportunities in Emergency Medicine.
Whom do I contact for more information or to set up electives?
  • To set up a clinical elective, contact the Undergraduate Program Administrator, Mary-Lynn Ferguson.
  • Year 1 and 2 University of Alberta medical students can sign up for shadowing experiences through the 'EM Club', if you need access please email