Emergency Medicine Resident Orientation: How Training Programs Get Their Residents Started

West J Emerg Med. 2017 Jan;18(1):97-104. doi: 10.5811/westjem.2016.10.31275. Epub 2016 Nov 15.


Introduction: The first formal orientation program for incoming emergency medicine (EM) residents was started in 1976. The last attempt to describe the nature of orientation programs was by Brillman in 1995. Now almost all residencies offer orientation to incoming residents, but little is known about the curricular content or structure of these programs. The purpose of this project was to describe the current composition and purpose of EM resident orientation programs in the United States.

Methods: In autumn of 2014, we surveyed all U.S. EM residency program directors (n=167). We adapted our survey instrument from one used by Brillman (1995). The survey was designed to assess the orientation program's purpose, structure, content, and teaching methods.

Results: The survey return rate was 63% (105 of 167). Most respondents (77%) directed three-year residencies, and all but one program offered intern orientation. Orientations lasted an average of nine clinical (Std. Dev.=7.3) and 13 non-clinical days (Std. Dev.=9.3). The prototypical breakdown of program activities was 27% lectures, 23% clinical work, 16% skills training, 10% administrative activities, 9% socialization and 15% other activities. Most orientations included activities to promote socialization among interns (98%) and with other members of the department (91%). Many programs (87%) included special certification courses (ACLS, ATLS, PALS, NRP). Course content included the following: use of electronic medical records (90%), physician wellness (75%), and chief complaint-based lectures (72%). Procedural skill sessions covered ultrasound (94%), airway management (91%), vascular access (90%), wound management (77%), splinting (67%), and trauma skills (62%).

Conclusion: Compared to Brillman (1995), we found that more programs (99%) are offering formal orientation and allocating more time to them. Lectures remain the most common educational activity. We found increases in the use of skills labs and specialty certifications. We also observed increases in time dedicated to clinical work during orientation. Only a few programs reported engaging in baseline or milestone assessments, an activity that could offer significant benefits to the residency program.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence
  • Curriculum*
  • Education, Medical, Graduate / methods*
  • Emergency Medicine / education*
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency / standards*
  • Physician Executives
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States