ACEM led the way in formalising and developing EM into the skilled discipline it is today, by helping to facilitate medical training programs for physicians to become specialists in the field of EM.

The history of EM in Australia and New Zealand mirrors developments in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. However, there are unique elements to the evolution of EM in Australasia.

Early days

Prior to the early 1960s, emergency departments (casualty departments as they were then known) did not have an appointed director or other senior doctors in charge.

In New Zealand, Dr Duncan Scott was appointed the Head of Accident & Emergency Department at Christchurch Hospital in 1963 (an office he held until 1983). In Victoria, Dr Bernard Alderson was appointed full-time Director of the 'casualty' department at Geelong Hospital in 1967. Other hospitals followed suit and, in 1981 the Australasian Society for Emergency Medicine (ASEM) was established.

After three years of discussions with the major colleges, (including consideration of a recommendation from the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians that a diploma in EM, granted jointly by those to colleges, be established), it was decided that the optimum pathway to improving standards and training in EM would be through an independent, new college.

The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine was founded in July 1983 and was subsequently incorporated in April 1984.

First training program

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 held in 1985. The first Fellowship Examination, which included both written and clinical components, was held in 1986 with eight successful candidates.

A new specialty

On 4 August 1993, the National Specialist Qualification Advisory Committee (NSQAC) recognised EM as a principal specialty and accepted Fellowship of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine as an appropriate qualification. The Australian Minister for Health subsequently approved the specialty, for the purposes of Medicare, on 27 December of the same year.

This followed two earlier reviews by NSQAC in 1984 and 1987. On both occasions, EM was not recognised as a principal specialty although, in 1987, NSQAC acknowledged that EM was a specialty area of medicine and that it was an area in which people needed to be trained. The question was whether a separate college was needed.

In New Zealand, the Medical Council of New Zealand advised that the relevant regulations were amended to include EM for the purposes of specialist registration. This became effective on 15 September 1995.

From strength to strength

EM has grown rapidly and is incorporated throughout the hospital systems in Australia and New Zealand. EDs in the Australasian region has over seven million attendances per year, with almost 150 EDs accredited for specialist training.

Academia and research

Academic Emergency Medicine started its development with the appointment of a Senior Lecturer in Emergency Medicine at the University of Canterbury (Christchurch, New Zealand) in 1990. The first Professor of Emergency Medicine was appointed at the University of Western Australia in November 1996. Many emergency physicians hold clinical academic positions and EDs play a significant role in undergraduate and postgraduate training.

The College established the Emergency Medicine Research Foundation (EMRF), in March 1994 to advance EM through sponsoring and conducting research into all aspects of EM. In 2012, the EMRF was replaced by the ACEM Foundation, which was created to provide a single vehicle for the conduct of ACEM's three key philanthropic areas: International Emergency Medicine, Emergency Medicine Research and Indigenous Emergency Medicine.

During 1989 and 1990, ASEM published a newsletter, Emergency Doctor, which included a scientific component. In December 1990, ASEM and ACEM co-published the first issue of a scientific journal, Emergency Medicine. The name of the journal was changed to Emergency Medicine Australasia (EMA) in 2004. 

Rising to the challenge

Public and private

While the majority of emergency attendances occur in public sector hospitals, fee-for-service EM is practiced in a growing number of private hospitals, the first of which was established at the Gold Coast in 1987.

There are now private hospital EDs in all capital cities giving Australians a genuine choice in how they access emergency care.

International affiliation

ACEM is a full foundation member of the International Federation for Emergency Medicine (IFEM) together with the American College of Emergency Physiciansthe British Association for Accident and Emergency Medicine (now known as the Royal College of Emergency Medicine) and the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians. There has been an ongoing increase in members of IFEM which now includes over 40 full member organisations.

Three scientific assemblies of IFEM have been held in Australia, in 1988 (Brisbane), 1996 (Sydney) and 2004 (Cairns).


ACEM is accredited by the Australian Medical Council (AMC) on behalf of the Medical Board of Australia (MBA) and the Medical Council of New Zealand (MCNZ) to deliver specialist medical education and training, and professional development programs.

The College's education and training programs were first reviewed and accredited by the AMC in 2007.

More information on the accreditation process and to view submissions to the Australian Medical Council can be found on the College accreditation page. [link to college accreditation page]

ACEM Presidents
President Year
Dr Simon Judkins 2017- current
Prof Tony Lawler 2015-2017
Dr Anthony Cross 2012 -2015
A/Prof Sally McCarthy 2008 - 2012
Dr Andrew Singer 2004 - 2008
Dr Ian Knox 2001 - 2004
Prof Peter Cameron 1999 - 2001
Prof Christopher Baggoley 1996 - 1999
Dr Richard Ashby 1992 - 1996
Prof Joseph Epstein 1988 - 1992
Dr Thomas Hamilton 1983 - 1988