The Making of a New Medical Specialty: A Policy Analysis of the Development of Emergency Medicine in India

Document Type : Original Article


1 Center for Health and the Social Sciences, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA

2 Health Systems Program, Department of International Health and International Injury Research Unit, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, USA

3 Health Systems Program, Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, USA


Medical specialization is an understudied, yet growing aspect of health systems in low- and middleincome countries (LMICs). In India, medical specialization is incrementally, yet significantly, modifying service delivery, workforce distribution, and financing. However, scarce evidence exists in India and other LMICs regarding how medical specialties evolve and are regulated, and how these processes might impact the health system. The trajectory of emergency medicine appears to encapsulate broader trends in medical specialization in India – international exchange and engagement, the formation of professional associations, and a lengthy regulatory process with the Medical Council of India. Using an analysis of political priority setting, our objective was to explore the emergence and recognition of emergency medicine as a medical specialty in India, from the early 1990s to 2015.

We used a qualitative case study methodology, drawing on the Shiffman and Smith framework. We conducted 87 in-depth interviews, reviewing 122 documents, and observing six meetings and conferences. We used a modified version of the ‘Framework’ approach in our analysis.

Momentum around emergency medicine as a viable solution to weak systems of emergency care in India gained traction in the 1990s. Public and private sector stakeholders, often working through transnational professional medical associations, actively pursued recognition from Medical Council of India. Despite fragmentation within the network, stakeholders shared similar beliefs regarding the need for specialty recognition, and were ultimately achieved this objective. However, fragmentation in the network made coalescing around a broader policy agenda for emergency medicine challenging, eventually contributing to an uncertain long-term pathway. Finally, due to the complexities of the regulatory system, stakeholders promoted multiple forms of training programs, expanding the workforce of emergency physicians, but with limited coordination and standardization.

The ideational centrality of postgraduate medical education, a challenging national governance system, and fragmentation within the transnational stakeholder network characterized the development of emergency medicine in India. As medical specialization continues to shape and influence health systems globally, research on the evolution of new medical specialties in LMICs can enhance our understanding of the connections between specialization, health systems, and equity.


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Volume 7, Issue 11
November 2018
Pages 993-1006
  • Receive Date: 14 September 2017
  • Revise Date: 08 June 2018
  • Accept Date: 10 June 2018
  • First Publish Date: 01 November 2018