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Disaster Medicine

Standardizing the Disaster Medicine Curriculum for Emergency Medicine Residents

Ritu R. Sarin, MD and Eric Goralnick, MD, MS

The increase in natural and man-made disasters occurring worldwide has placed Emergency Medicine (EM) physicians at the forefront of the response to these crises. Whether you are a new graduate, working solo on a night shift when there has been a chemical exposure at a local grocery store, or a seasoned EM physician working the day of a horrific terrorist event, disaster medicine is a very real part of EM practice. Recent data indicates disaster-preparedness is one of the most frequently listed components emergency medicine program directors want to add to their curricula1, and while the Accreditation Council for Graduation Medical Education (ACGME) residency program requirements for Emergency Medicine has some baseline recommendations for education in Disaster Medicine, there are no clear standardized requirements or guidelines for training programs on how to address topic.2

Preliminary research of US residencies has indicated that while most programs include some level of disaster medicine education, programs vary in content, methodology and dedicated hours. For this reason, many disaster medicine leaders have long been pushing forward the development of core competencies in disaster medicine across many spectrums and levels of training, to standardize how we train and practice in the field. In a study published in 2012, a consensus document addressed the need for basic educational competencies in Disaster Medicine across all fields and produced a list of core competencies for medical personnel.3 Despite this growing political and educational interest in Disaster Medicine, there is no indication these educational goals are or can be met in the field of emergency medicine.

The leadership of the Society of Academic Emergency Medicine (SAEM) Disaster Medicine Interest Group has partnered with the Council of Residency Directors (CORD), the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) Disaster Medicine Section and the National Association of EMS Physicians (NAEMSP) to utilize these broadly defined competencies in the disaster medicine literature to tailor specific training goals targeted at EM residencies. These organizations are bringing together experts in both disaster and emergency medicine to create a consensus document focused on the most necessary skill sets for an emergency medicine physician to have to help make them as successful as possible during a time of crisis, until more resources can be utilized. This multi-step process was initiated with a focus group at ACEP in Boston in 2015 and will continue at SAEM in New Orleans in 2016. Our goal is to have critical competencies and specific training opportunities that can be incorporated into a 3 or 4 year residency identified and approved by all organizations by 2017.


  1. Katzer R, Cabanas JG, Martin-Gill C, et al. Emergency medical services education in emergency medicine residency programs: a national survey. Acad Emerg Med. 2012;19(2):174-9. 
  2. ACGME Requirements for Emergency Medicine, Accredited Council for Graduate Medical Education website. https://www.acgme.org/Specialties/Overview/pfcatid/7 Accessed September 3, 2015
  3. Schultz, CH, Koenig, KL, Whiteside, M, et al. Development of National Standardized All-Hazard Disaster Core Competencies for Acute Care Physicians, Nurses, and EMS Professionals. Ann Emerg Med. 2012;59:196-208

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