Women and the College: where are we now?


The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) was founded in 1983.  The founding fellows consisted of 67 doctors, and very few were female.  Since then our speciality has flourished into one of the most prominent and popular in Australian and New Zealand with more than 2300 Fellows and 2800 trainees.  Currently, women make up approximately half of the trainees, and just under half of the Fellows.  Yet so many registrars and fellows see the College as a bunch of men in suits, or a building in Melbourne. So, what is the College?  And what is it to female emergency doctors? 


What is ACEM and how is it structured? 

The College is an organisation whose primary purpose is the training of emergency doctors and the advancement of professional standards.  This training is overseen by the Australian Medical Council. Our College also takes a strong role in advocacy in issues related to health.  You will see media items involving the College, promoting it as the pre-eminent voice in the emergency care landscape.  Other key strategic areas are Research, Member Wellbeing, Equity and Sustainability.  

To achieve this, the College has a support staff numbering approximately 80, who are based in Melbourne.  Their roles are to support the actions of the Fellows in achieving the aims of the College.  Led by a CEO, there are 3 Directors overseeing key functions– Education, Policy and Advocacy and Community and Engagement.  

Fellows who have roles in the College generally fall into 3 groups – under the Council or Education (COE), under the Council of Advocacy, Policy and Partnerships (CAPP), better thought of as the “Council of Everything Else”, or as part of a state or territory Faculty board.  

Council members are elected from each state, territory and New Zealand every 2 years.  Under each Council, there are a number of Committees to address key areas of focus.  


Council of Education 

COE committees consist of Specialist and Non-specialist training, CPD, Specialist IMG, Trainee, PEM and Joint Consultative Committees.  


Council of Advocacy, Policy and Partnerships

The CAPP committees are Quality and Safety, Research, International, Public Health and Disaster, Health System Reform, Standards, Regional, Rural and Remote and Indigenous.  In addition, each region (states, territories and New Zealand) has a Faculty Board of up to 8 members which reports to CAPP whose role is to promote and advance the objectives and identified strategic priorities of the College at a local level.

There really is something for everyone.  


Members of each committee are chosen every 2 years through a nomination process, involving a nominations panel.  The panel is a subgroup of the Council.  Selections are made on experience and expertise, whilst ensuring sufficient diversity across a range of parameters, including geography.  Some committees are underfilled at times, others are over-subscribed.  


There are other groups or sections that report to the Board or into one of the committees or councils.  One of these groups is Advancing Women in Medicine (AWE), set up to support women into and in leadership positions through advocacy, research and networking.  


How does the board fit in?

While the Councils conduct the operational activities of the College, a Board made of 10 members overseas the strategic and financial functions.  The Board is made up of President, Immediate Past President or President Elect and the Chair of each Council, a trainee representative, 2 elected FACEMs and a couple of non-FACEM positions.  It is well known that the ACEM Board was made of 100% males for a number of years, but this has recently changed after the constitution was voted upon and updated to make it less restrictive and broaden representation.  The Board now has three female members, with the election of FACEMs Dr Rebecca Day and Associate Professor Melinda Truesdale as well as Community Representative, Ms Jacqui Gibson. 

No other College matched the low ebb of no female representation.  While we as female emergency doctors may question why this happened, it is clear that there has always been exceptional women in our profession. So there have been structural impediments to gender diversity within ACEM.  A number of groups are addressing this issue, in particular NoWEM, the Diversity and Inclusion Steering Group and AWE. The will for change is there, and now progress is visibly occurring.


Why get involved in the college?

Fellows and trainees can play in a role in the college in numerous different ways.  For most of us, this is voluntary work done in our spare time (I know, I know…what spare time?  Why would you do work in your spare time?)  For me, College positions have given me the opportunity to meet and work with a wide variety of dedicated and visionary people from all over Australia and New Zealand.  We work on projects we are passionate about, create policies that influence how departments are run far outside our usual sphere.  

The greater goal is to create a positive impact on Emergency Medicine as a whole.  We share special interests, share our stories of success and failures, and ultimately share ourselves with strangers who become friends and allies.  While I have found the College to be a respectful, enjoyable and equitable organisation to work with, we must acknowledge the efforts of female and male leaders who have fought for equality in Emergency Medicine.  The battle is not over.  

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 What does involvement look like?

Each committee has regular meetings, most likely two teleconferences and one face to face meeting at College headquarters in Melbourne each year.  There are documents to read, comment or advise on in between meetings.  The College is well supported with policy advisors and administrators, so the workload is not onerous, as FACEMs act more as expert consultants.  


How can I get involved?

There are always ways to get involved, but right now there is a fantastic opportunity. The Council of Education is seeking Expressions of Interest following it’s entities spill. This is to hold a role for the 2 year term, 2019-2021. There are a huge range of opportunities to apply for roles on anything from the Examinations Committee, to the Standard Setting Panel to the Trainee Committee, to name but a few. Follow this link to see what is available and the eligibility criteria. Expressions of Interest close on 8th September so go and take a look! Faculty Board positions will be advertised later this year.  It can be a truly rewarding and valuable experience getting involved in our College and making tangible change.


Kim Hansen

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Dr Kim Hansen

Kim has been actively involved in the College since 2009. At her first meeting, she had a 4 week old baby! Her current roles are QLD Faculty Chair, Chair of AWE, Vice Chair of Quality and Safety and QLD Quality and Patient Safety representative on CAPP. She has held many roles prior to this.

Helen Rhodes