Emily Sagalyn: Emergency Medicine Physician

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  • Name Emily Sagalyn, MD

  • Education Wilderness Medicine/EMS Fellow, University of Utah, 2012; Masters in Public Health, University of Utah, 2012; Resident, Hospital of the University of PA, 2010; University of MA Medical School, MD, 2006; BA Neuroscience, Columbia University, 2000
  • Target Audience Undergraduate

Emily Sagalyn is armed with boundless medical ingenuity and combines those skills with her love of the outdoors to save lives in her community. Read more to find out what makes Emily's field, Wilderness and Emergency Medicine so fascinating!

What is your job?

I am an Emergency Medicine Physician, specializing in Wilderness Medicine. I primarily work in the ERimage at the University of Utah hospital, where I receive and treat adults with a variety of critical injuries. I also train first responders on best practices when responding to accidents that occur in the wilderness.

Can you tell me about your Wilderness Medicine Fellowship? 

A fellowship is additional medical speciality training within a field of medicine. Fellowship training is follows residency training in a specific field of medicine, in my case Emergency Medicine, Residency is field specific training following medical school which is general medicical training. I have always loved the outdoors. Specializing in wilderness medicine allowed me to contribute to a field of medicine and lifestyle that I am truly committed to. Part of my fellowship entailed training first responders, such as search and rescue (SAR) teams like the Grand Teton National Park Rangers on basic life saving treatment practices upon arriving to an accident. What SAR teams and EMT's do upon arrival, before the injured person is transported to the ER via ambulance or helicopter, is vitally important to the patient's recovery. Often their choices in treatment and quality of training can mean the difference between life and death.

What kinds of injuries do you see in the wilderness?

imageThough people are more inclined to wear a helmet when skiing and biking due to an increased awareness of Traumatic Brain Energy (TBI), TBI is still one of the most common injuries we see. Injuries in the wilderness can be so unexpected and unpreventable, as you are at the mercy of mother-nature. For example, a lightening storm struck a number of rock-climbers on the Grand Teton in Wyoming a few years ago. This storm killed one climber, and injured others in the group. The Teton Rangers were first responders on this scene. The technical skills of the rangers as well as seamless coordination of many local organizations was essential in the rapid access and stabilization of the injured climbers.

Explain what an average week at work is like for you.

Every minute in the ER is different. The only constant is that there are always people in need of care. I work days, nights, weekends and holidays. If you are going into emergency medicine, as opposed to family practice with more standard office hours, you need to be prepared for a varying schedule because the ER is like an IHOP restaurant- always open.

What are the most common injuries you see in Utah Emergency Rooms?

Car accidents are number one, but we see a lot of ski injuries too. Every region has its own culture and lifestyle. Utah residents are active and outdoorsy and therefore we see injuries related to that lifestyle.  When I was a resident in Philadelphia, our patient population was quite different. The hospital is a large urban University Hospital with very advanced treatment options for diseases as well as located on the edge of a large traditionally dangerous neighborhood. Therefore, we treated many gun shot and stab wounds, as well as many people with advanced chronic diseases due to poor access to primary care and limited financial resources, and many homeless people, Philadelphia is a larger metropolitan area and the resources for the homeless are not as robust as Utah. The homeless in Salt Lake have a very good resource in the Fourth Street Clinic.

What do you like best about your job?

Helping people and making a difference is my top priority as a doctor, but the reason I chose this field of medicine is because my days are always different. You see new injuries and learn new treatments all the time. Emergency and Wilderness Medicine have also afforded me more travel and field work opportunities. Tomorrow I leave for a 3 week stint in Ghana.

When you were a kid, did you like science, engineering and/or math? 

I have always been interested in STEM subjects, in particular Biology. I think it's probably because I was (and still am) interested in how things work. The human body is fascinating.

Was there a moment when you knew that you wanted to go into medicine?

There was not a particular moment, but there were a few events that pointed me in this direction. When I was inimage high school, I excelled in science and knew I wanted to do a pre-med program as an undergrad. After graduating from Columbia, I needed a break from school, and during this two year break I taught science at private high schools. The break gave me direction and time to reflect before diving into medical school.  

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a doctor?

Wow. I guess what I remember most is preparing for the MCATS. The amount of preparation required to take them is equivalent to a semester-long course in college - crazy. Admittance into medical school is also fiercely competitive and it is not always about getting perfect grades or scores (although that helps). Acceptance is also dependent upon being a well-rounded individual who comes across in the application as compassionate and genuinely interested in healthcare.

What inspired or convinced you to get involved in your field?

imageMy earlier memory of the medical field involves my uncle. He is an orthopedic surgeon and took me along on two medical missions to Nicaragua when I was in college. That trip was remarkably inspiring and fueled my interest in medicine.

Do you have any suggestions for how undergraduates can gain practical experience in your field?

Internships and volunteering are critical. You can volunteer at a local hospital or even homeless shelter. There are also a lot of opportunities in college to do an international study tour. I love to travel so I personally think this is an awesome way to get school credit while also gaining hands-on experience.

Are there programs, degrees or specific schools you would recommend? 

Every medical school is known for something. Choosing a school based on what type of medicine you are pursuing is a smart strategy, but no matter what school you choose be sure to convey a genuine interest in health in the application. My recommendation is to get a lot of volunteer experience under your belt. There are opportunities for emergency medicine physicians everywhere, but if you want to focus on wilderness medicine many programs are out west, although there are many new programs starting in the East and Southeast.

The Future of Your Field: Are there exciting things happening in your field that could involve students who will enter the field in 5 years?

The rising cost of healthcare will have a profound impact on the medical field in the long term. Preventative health care will become increasingly important as the overall cost of health care rises. There will be a push for improving health as a community, and primary care will become more critical. There will always be a need for emergency medicine, but I think if we see an increase in preventative care the ER will shift from administering acute care to administering true emergency care.


  • Emily, an avid skier, worked as Ski Patrol in Pennsylvania.
  • In 1986, Congress passed the Emergency Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) that gives individuals the right to emergency care regardless of their ability to pay.
  • According to the CDC, in 2011 the number of ER visits in the U.S. totaled 123.8 million, which is a whopping 41.4 visits for every 100 people.



Traumatic Brain Injury - Traumatic brain injury is damage to the brain as the result of an injury
Fourth Street Clinic - a nonprofit that ends homelessness through providing health care and support services
MCAT - Medical College Admissions Test
Orthopedic - the branch of surgery which deals with conditions of the musculoskeletal system
CDC - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Medical Fellowship - A fellowship is the period of specialty medical training that occurs after completion of a residency, such as Wilderness Medicine fellowship (as a sub-specialty of Emergency Medicine)

(adapted from dictionary.com)


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