Amal Mattu gave a talk over a decade ago titled “Finding Your Niche in EM.” I can’t remember all the details, but I remember it was brilliant. He described how he volunteered to drive all his department’s speakers to the airport so he could have some one-on-one time to talk with them. Dr. Sam Ko recorded these five points:

  1. Be the Expert – pick a topic and know more than anyone else.
  2. Go into new areas that are not too saturated – like emergency EKGs was at the time
  3. Publish like crazy on a focused topic
  4. Be broad, and not too narrow
  5. Read everything on that topic

How do you pick a niche?

So how do you pick that area in which you can “be the expert?” You need to find what interests you, but you can’t do that unless you are continually exploring.

  • find interesting articles from regular reading of journals
    • On the journals website you can have the table of contents delivered to your email or RSS reader. Note which titles prompt you to read the abstract or the whole paper.
    • Example: if you’re interested in medical education, have the contents of Academic Medicine and Academic Emergency Medicine: Education and Training delivered to your inbox every month.
  • attending conferences where new work is presented
    • At conferences, note which sessions do you find most interesting.
    • The bonus of the conference attendance method is you will be sitting with potential collaborators who also find this topic interesting.
    • You can also join interest groups within ACEP or SAEM to hear about the latest hotness or find like-minded people.
    • Example: if you’re interested in medical education, go to CORD and the AAMC’s conferences. Talk to people at the sessions you’re at and exchange business cards (or Twitter handles).
  • applying new ideas and technologies to old problems
    • Read outside your discipline with an eye for things that can also be applied within Emergency Medicine.
    • Example: med ed, read about how colleges are improving their offerings, or even grade schools.
  • observation of patients or learners may bring up questions or problems that may be interesting
    • There may be a patient (or series of patients) that piques your interest.
    • Perhaps there’s a problem students point out that you’d like to address.
    • Is there a problem in your department that needs solving.
    • Example: you may notice that faculty in your department are having difficulty giving effective feedback.
  • conversations from colleagues (via social media or in person)
    • Note what topics you find interesting on Twitter or other social media platforms
    • What are your in person colleagues talking about that is interesting.
    • Example: follow the med ed gurus on Twitter, listen to the med ed podcasts, subscribe to the med ed blogs.

You may develop a long career within this research niche, so don’t choose this lightly. Find something that has the potential to hold your interest for years.

Become the expert

Once you’ve selected a niche, you need to become the expert in that topic. Conduct a thorough search of the literature. Read the articles you find interesting then comb through its references to find more. Use Google Scholar or Scopus to find which articles are citing this article.

Consider writing a systematic review of the topic which can be used later in your background session or even when applying for grants. This review will help you find holes in the knowledge on which you can focus your efforts. Find that corner that’s not been explored and start asking questions.


  1. Amal Mattu’s Niche: