While the concept the specialty of Emergency Medicine practiced by Emergency Physician Specialists is known broadly to the public today, it was not long ago that this specialty did not exist.
In fact, the specialty of Emergency Medicine with its attendant residency training programs did not come into existence until about 1970. Since that time, however, Emergency Medicine has grown up in a hurry. According to statistics released by the Center for Disease Control, a staggering 114 million Americans visited emergency departments in 2003, up 26% from 10 years ago, and Emergency Medicine ranks in the top 10 of all specialty programs chosen by today’s medical school graduates.
The forces that have combined to accelerate the growth of the specialty of Emergency Medicine are interesting, varied and complex. When Dwight D. Eisenhower commanded the American forces in World War II, he was impressed with the speed and ease in which automobiles could travel of Germany’s Autobahn. When he became the United States’ 34th President, he set about creating an interstate highway system- now known as the Eisenhower Interstate System. With the high speed highways came high impact collisions, and the need for immediate resuscitation and care of their victim.
The first emergency rooms of hospitals were thus aptly named “accident wards,” open to patients 24 hours a day without an appointment. Others besides accident victims sought out the open access of these facilities, and soon the accident ward became first the “emergency room” and ultimately the Emergency Department, representing the medical safety net for an entire population.
Evolving technological and medical advances played a critical role as well. Advances in treatment of soldiers wounded in battle became part of the armamentarium of the Emergency Physician, leading to the creation of designated Trauma Centers where patients could receive the standard of care for their injuries. So too, time sensitive advances in acute cardiac care and stroke care found a home for delivery in the nations Emergency Departments. . And today, Emergency Medicine is poised to play the leading role in treatment of potential victims of bioterrorism or pandemics.
For a specialty so young, Emergency Medicine has advanced a long way indeed.