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Emergency medicine research: how far have we come and where are we heading?
  1. David W Yates1,
  2. Alasdair J Gray2
  1. 1 Trauma Audit Research Network, Institute of Population Health, University of Manchester, Salford, UK
  2. 2 Department of Emergency Medicine, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Alasdair J Gray, Department of Emergency Medicine, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, EH16 4SA, UK; Alasdair.Gray{at}

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To misquote Isaac Newton, we all hope to see further by standing on the shoulders of giants. But which giants? In the early days of Emergency Medicine, we inherited the commonly accepted system of apprenticeships; practice was based not so much on what was known but on what our bosses thought they knew. Added to this the widely held but quite unfair view among other medical professionals that ‘casualty’ was for those who could not make the grade in a proper discipline and you had all the ingredients for an evidence-free specialty.

Our founding fathers were aware of this potential pitfall; they knew there were unknowns and even unknown unknowns in the path towards an evidence-based, scientific specialty—as we can read in the early papers of the Casualty Surgeons Association (CSA). The agenda for their meeting in Salford on 16 November 1973 contains wildly ambitious proposals: University Posts in A&E; a Diploma in A&E; creation of a Faculty; Senior Registrars—and even a change of name!

This paper chronicles the development of the concept of research from these early beginnings through to the present day, with our mandatory training in research methodology and universal acceptance of the benefits of evidence-based medicine.

The seventies

In the 1970s, research was considered an optional extra, often impeding the main job of moving the patients through the department. Workloads were heavy but rarely measured, so it was difficult to argue for more resources when there were few markers of activity. Hence, some of the early ‘research’ was around trying to identify the boundaries of our responsibilities; ‘inappropriate attenders’ and the like. Case reports were popular, expanding the Curriculum Vitae but probably doing little to advance clinical practice. With handwritten notes and no computerisation, retrospective reviews involved tedious hand searching; prospective work, using hard copy proforma, was very labour intensive …

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  • Contributors Both authors contributed equally to drafting, writing and reviewing the manuscript.

  • Funding This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Author note DWY was the President of the UK Emergency Medicine Research Society in the 1980s and in 1993 became the first Dean of the Faculty of Accident and Emergency Medicine, the forerunner of RCEM. He was appointed to the first Chair in the specialty, in Manchester, in 1990. AG is the current Chair of the Research and Publications committee of RCEM.