The history of emergency medicine in Australia and New Zealand has in many ways paralleled developments in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, although in other respects its evolution has been unique.

Early signs

The first full time  Director of a 'Casualty Department' in Australia was appointed in Geelong, Victoria in 1967. Other hospitals followed and, in 1981, the Australasian Society for Emergency Medicine was established. After three years of discussions with the major colleges, it was decided that the optimum pathway to improving standards and training in emergency medicine would be via a separate, new college and the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine was subsequently incorporated by 73 founding Fellows in 1984.

A curriculum and training program was developed with a similar structure, duration and examination system to the other specialist medical colleges. The first Primary Examination, (testing the basic sciences of Anatomy, Pathology, Physiology and Pharmacology), was conducted in 1984. The first Fellowship Examination, (a six part clinical exit examination) was held in 1986 with eight successful candidates.

A new speciality

In July 1991, ACEM submitted an application to the National Specialist Qualification Advisory Committee for recognition as a principal specialty. After wide consultation with the profession and health regulatory agencies, the Commonwealth Minister for Health approved the recognition of emergency medicine as a principal specialty effective 8 August 1993.

In New Zealand, emergency medicine was recognised as a medical specialty in November 1995.

From strength to strength

Emergency medicine has grown rapidly and is incorporated throughout the hospital systems in Australia and New Zealand. Emergency departments in the Australasian region have over seven million attendances per annum. There are more than 100 emergency departments accredited for specialist training.

Academic emergency medicine is developing with the first appointment at senior lecturer grade being established at the Christchurch School of Medicine in 1992, and the first full Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Western Australia in 1996. Many emergency physicians hold clinical academic titles and emergency departments play a significant role in undergraduate and postgraduate training.

The College established the Emergency Medicine Research Foundation in 1993 to receive donations and benefactions directed to basic and applied research in the discipline.

The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine and the Australasian Society for Emergency Medicine co-publish a scientific journal, Emergency Medicine Australasia first issued in 1989.

Rising to the challenge

While the majority of emergency attendances occur in public sector hospitals, fee-for-service emergency medicine is practiced in a growing number of private hospitals, the first having been established at the Gold Coast in 1987. There are now private hospital emergency departments in all capital cities giving Australians genuine choice in how they access emergency care.

ACEM is a full foundation member of the International Federation for Emergency Medicine (IFEM) together with the American College of Emergency Physicians, the British Association for Emergency Medicine and the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians. Three scientific assemblies of the IFEM have been held in Australia, in 1988 (Brisbane) and 1996 (Sydney) and in 2004 (Cairns). Following formation, there has been an ongoing increase in members of the IFEM which now includes over 20 member organisations.

AMC and MCNZ accreditation

ACEM is accredited by the Australian Medical Council (AMC) and the Medical Council of New Zealand (MCNZ) to deliver specialist medical education and training, and professional development programs. For more information on the accreditation process and to view ACEM’s submissions to the Australian Medical Council please visit College Accreditation.