ER Specialists Share Tips for Keeping Calm Amid Chaos

By Marisa Cohen
February 09, 2023

You know those days when everything seems to reach a crisis point all at once? Your work deadlines are pushed up, your family needs your attention, a major appliance goes on the fritz, and then the dog throws up. For emergency medicine workers, every day is like that. Staying calm and focused when chaos is swirling around can literally be a matter of life or death. So we asked ER doctors, nurses, and paramedics with nerves of steel their tips for staying calm in the middle of a storm.

Mindfully Attend to One Task at a Time

“I usually love chaos—I have six kids and work in the ER! But when you’re an ER doctor, you can sometimes get interrupted 25 times in an hour. You need to pay attention to what the nurse is telling you, but then you might get distracted from the medical order you’re writing. I’ve discovered there is no such thing as multitasking—instead, there is task-switching. I will stop what I’m doing and mindfully pay attention to the other task for five minutes, and then go back and mindfully pay attention to what I was doing before. I used to keep everything in my head, but now I keep a piece of paper to jot down what I was thinking about, so I can go right back to it.”

—Teresa Murray Amato, M.D., director of Emergency Medicine, Northwell Health Long Island Jewish Forest Hills Hospital, New York