What is Emergency Medicine?

Emergency Medicine is the specialty concerned with the stabilization, management, diagnosis, and disposition of individuals with acute illness and injury. It also includes the management of trauma resuscitation, advanced cardiac life support, advanced airway management, poisonings, pre-hospital care and disaster preparedness. Emergency Medicine encompasses a large amount of general medicine but involves the technical and cognitive aspects of virtually all fields of medicine and surgery including the surgical sub-specialties.

Emergency physicians require a broad knowledge base and possess the skills of many specialists - the ability to manage a difficult airway (anesthesia), suture a complex laceration (plastic surgery), reduce a fractured bone or dislocated joint (orthopedic surgery), treat a heart attack (internist), delivery a baby (Obstetrics and Gynecology), stop a bad nosebleed (ENT), manage suicide attempts and complex overdoses (Psychiatry & Toxicology), tap a septic joint (Rheumatology), protect an abused child (Pediatrics), and place a chest tube (Cardiothoracic Surgery). Graduates from over 120 Emergency Medicine residency programs in the U.S. and Canada may also complete fellowships that include: Toxicology, Pediatric EM, Sports Medicine, Hyperbaric Medicine, Critical Care, Emergency Medical Services, Research, International EM, and Ultrasound. Of these, the first four offer subspecialty certification.

There are approximately 120 million Emergency Department visits per year. In the US, the ED serves as the only access to medical care for millions of people. As a result, in addition to delivering the highest quality of medical care, the emergency physician’s practice includes elements of public health, population health, and prevention. This may include screening, intervention, treatment and referral for a variety of illnesses and behaviors such as substance use disorders, interpersonal violence, depression and other mental health disorders, and undiagnosed illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, and HIV. In 1979 Emergency Medicine was recognized as the 23rd medical specialty by the American Board of Medical Specialties. The American Board of Emergency Medicine, the independent certifying body for the specialty, was established and the first certification examination was given in 1980. Currently there are 76 full academic Departments of Emergency Medicine at medical schools across the country.

Other universities with academic departments of emergency medicine include Johns Hopkins University, the University of Pennsylvania, Brown University, and the University of California at San Francisco, among others.

Text adapted from the International Federation for Emergency Medicine.