Emergency medicine

Emergency Medicine is a distinct specialty concerned with the assessment, stabilisation and treatment of all acute medical conditions.

It is always hospital based, and most Emergency Physicians are employed in public hospital Emergency Departments.

About emergency medicine

Emergency Medicine was founded with the intention of improving the standard of care delivered. Until 20 years ago, the provision of Emergency medical care in public hospitals was by junior staff on rotation who had little experience or training in this area.


Training in Emergency Medicine takes at least 7 years after obtaining a basic medical degree. Doctors who are training in Emergency Medicine obtain a variety of skills and experience in areas such as Intensive Care, Coronary Care, Anaesthetics, Paediatrics, General Medicine and Surgery. In addition they must also spend a number of years in Emergency Medicine.

Specialists in training are known as Registrars and usually have between 3 and 8 years of experience. When they finish their training and examinations they are known as Emergency Physicians. To become a specialist the doctor must pass two sets of difficult exams. Despite spending 6-9 months of dedicated study for each set of exams, usually only half of the candidates are successful at their first attempt.

Emergency Medicine is a relatively new specialty in Australia, with the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine being formed in 1983. This college is responsible for organising training, examinations, professional issues and maintenance of professional standards. Despite its young age, the specialty has markedly improved the quality of acute health care provided in the nation's Emergency Departments.

Emergency Medicine is not the same as General Practice. General Practice is a distinct specialty that possesses different skills and is usually involved in the management of less acute health problems. Some people still believe that it is appropriate to go to the Emergency Department for their chronic health problems, and that they will get equivalent care to their General Practitioner. Unfortunately this may lead to disappointment as chronic stable conditions usually receive a low triage priority, with the result of a longer waiting time. In addition, staff in the Emergency Department are not specifically trained in General Practice and may not be able to provide the care that the patient requires.

Practising emergency medicine

Emergency Medicine has to deal with a vast variety of situations. Staff are often required to make instant decisions whilst under significant pressure. Substantial ethical and moral dilemmas also frequently occur and the threat of violence towards staff is often present. Emergency Department nurses, doctors and ancillary staff work closely together to provide the best possible service.

Emergency Department medical staff do not usually perform major surgical operations, this is the domain of the General, Trauma or Orthopaedic Surgeon. Whilst there is sometimes a perception that the staff of the Emergency Department are constantly attending to victims of serious trauma, this is usually not the case. Most seriously ill patients treated in the Emergency Department have conditions of a non-traumatic nature. Severe cardiac, respiratory, nervous and infectious problems are the cause of the majority of these cases and many are children.