Emergency Medicine - A brief history of RCEM

Health IT and General
Luke Ward
June 18, 2023

A brief history of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine

Here at Eolas, we were delighted when we heard this year’s RCEM Annual Scientific Meeting would be held in Belfast, right on our doorstep. And sure enough, we had a great time at the RCEM meeting, hearing about the great work our ED colleagues have been doing and letting them know about the brilliant features of the Eolas Medical app.

RCEM Eolas

Among the many things we learned during those three days, our CSO and resident heart-o-phile Rob was particularly surprised to discover that RCEM has only been in existence since 2008. He was quick to point out that his own college - the Royal College of Physicians - was founded in 1518 by Henry VIII, making it the oldest of the UK’s prestigious medical colleges.

History of RCEM

As we all know, the last thing any cardiologist needs is any more reasons to inflate their ego, so we thought we’d better flesh out a few details around the history of RCEM.

Royal College of Emergency Medicine Crest

While RCEM only received its royal charter in 2008, Emergency Medicine has been recognised as an important UK specialty for much longer than that. The term “casualty” entered common use in the 1950s, though was changed to “"accident and emergency department" in the 1960s in an effort to discourage casual hospital attendance for patients who should have been accessing primary care services. As many of our colleagues across the pond will be aware, “A&E” is still used interchangeably with “emergency medicine” here in the UK, although there has been a gradual shift towards the latter term as an international standard.

Early A&Es were staffed by orthopods, but by the early 70s there were over 30 consultants dedicated to A&E medicine who belonged to the Casualty Surgeons Association (CSA). By the mid 80s, emergency medicine had become an officially accredited speciality, entry to which could be gained by sitting the FRCS A&E exam. The CSA evolved into the British Association for A&E Medicine (BAEM), which was the predecessor of what we now know as RCEM.

Roots of modern emergency medicine

Far before its official recognition as a regulated clinical speciality, though, the roots of modern emergency medicine are often traced back to Dominique Jean Larrey. Larrey was a remarkable French military surgeon who earned personal praise from both Napoleon and Wellington. He is widely considered the father of modern triage and an early proponent of both specialised facilities to deal with medical emergencies, and of the principle that medical care should be open to all (he was famous for treating wounded enemy soldiers in addition to French military personnel).

Baron Jean Dominique Larrey (1766-1842) Paris, Musee du Val-de-Grace

And there you have it - the history of RCEM, old and new. From what we saw at the RCEM Annual Scientific Meeting, it’s clear that there are exciting developments happening in emergency medicine, and we’re delighted that Eolas Medical is making a contribution to that by ensuring that ED professionals have the information they need at their fingertips at all times.