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The fourth year elective in Emergency Medicine is a popular and rewarding clinical opportunity available to UNC medical students and to a limited number of qualified and highly motivated students from other medical schools. During the UNC EM clinical electives, medical students see patients with undifferentiated medical conditions and get the first opportunity to evaluate and diagnose a variety of medical conditions under the direct supervision of our experienced Emergency Medicine attending physicians.

Emergency medicine is exciting because patients present to the emergency department with a collection of signs and symptoms but not a definitive diagnosis. Often, the emergency department is the first place the patient gets seen with a new medical condition.

Much of the satisfaction in emergency medicine comes from bonding with the patient and then solving the diagnostic puzzles and providing the treatment that can improve or even save their lives. It often seems to students in medical school that their role is to watch residents and attendings work through this process. But in the UNC 4th year ED elective, medical students act as the primary provider for the patient with the close supervision of the ED attending physician. The medical student interviews and examines the patient, and then they have an opportunity to use the knowledge that they gained in the first 3 years of medical school to come up with a differential diagnosis and plan for initial management of the patient. After discussing and refining the differential diagnosis and plan with the attending physician, the medical student continues to function as the patient’s primary provider during their emergency department stay. This format allows for valuable one on one teaching from the attending physician and a chance to experience the joys of bonding with the patient and their family members, to interact directly with consultants, and to evaluate and make decisions based on the patient’s laboratory, EKG, and radiologic test results.


Please keep in mind that there are sometimes violent patients in the ED. If you encounter a patient that may be violent or makes you feel uncomfortable, please retreat to a safer area and notify your attending or the nursing staff. Always take another staff member with you when you go in to see a patient in the locked area for psychiatric patients. Patients in the psychiatric area are rarely violent but it is better to be safe. If a patient needs to be restrained, please do not attempt to assist with the restraint. In that situation the medical student can be very helpful by going to the computer and gathering information about the patient to report to the attending and ED staff. Helpful information includes allergies, medications, past psychiatric history, and past medical history.

Orientation Information

You will receive a detailed Course Manual several weeks before your clerkship begins.


Reading Assignments
Every person has their own preferences on what and how to study. Here are some resources to help get you started.



Orientation is held on the first day of the course in the small conference room on the 1st floor of the Physicians Office Building. This is the floor where the UNC Department of Emergency Medicine offices are located. You will receive an email at least one week prior to the beginning of the course confirming the time for the course orientation meeting.
The procedure cards are guides to help you see a variety of patients in the ED and to help you to have the opportunity to get a variety of procedures completed. You most likely won’t have an opportunity to participate in some of the types of patient encounters and procedures listed. The goal is to see 80% of the patient presentations listed (e.g. Abdominal pain, Chest pain, Altered Mental Status…) and as many of the procedures as you can do. The procedures that have “Min” written beside them are required procedures and you should do at least the minimum number listed. For example “IV starts 4 Min” means you should start at least 4 IV’s during the month. Points will be deducted for any of the required procedures that are not completed.
The end of course exam is covers a variety of common EM topics. During the month you should read about the common presenting complaints in emergency medicine in the copy of the Tintinalli Handbook that we will provide to you. The presenting complaints listed on your procedure card are a good guide to the topics that you may want to read about. Also be sure to read up on complaints related to patients that you see in the ED. A good way to practice for EM tests is with practice questions. There are 800 practice EM questions that you can do on the Access EM website, available through the UNC health sciences library portal. The CDEM curriculum gives a good overview of basic EM topics and is meant to be studied during an EM acting internship month.