New subspecialty in disaster medicine is emerging

The goal is to designate physicians who are able to organize and coordinate disaster response.

By Myrle Croasdale — Posted March 13, 2006

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Disaster medicine doctors are preparing to carve out their own niche in the physician work force.

The American Board of Physician Specialties announced the newly formed American Board of Disaster Medicine in February. On May 1, the ABPS will begin accepting applications from physicians interested in disaster medicine.

Lewis Marshall, MD, an emergency medicine physician and vice chair of the new board, said surgeons skilled with treating blast injuries, neurologists knowledgeable in treating nerve gas injuries, and internists, pediatricians and psychiatrists can all be part of building a comprehensive disaster response.

Also to be considered are hazardous material instructors and doctors with field experience or 50 hours of continuing medical education in disaster medicine or a related field.

Educational requirements are expected to be finalized this month, though Dr. Marshall said he expects basic qualifications to include board certification in a specialty, national disaster life support courses or their equivalent and disaster medical certification training.

The first exam for this board certificate is expected this fall.

The new subspecialty aims to address the need for responders who can organize and coordinate planning with the government and private sector during a terrorist attack or natural disaster, according to the ABPS.

"Nurses, physicians, hospitals, laboratories, all these groups each have protocols for when a disaster strikes, but no one cuts across all these groups and brings them together," said Maurice Ramirez, DO, an emergency medicine physician and chair of the new disaster medicine board.

Nearly 140 physicians have sent ABPS letters of interest in the first month since announcement of the new specialty.

"We're getting a far larger response than we were anticipating," Dr. Ramirez said.

Dr. Ramirez said committee members originally expected 2,000 to 5,000 physicians to apply. But given the early interest, he said it could go even higher.

There are five fellowships in disaster medicine; the new board will not seek additional disaster medicine fellowships or residencies, Dr. Ramirez said.

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