portrait of Dr. Robert O'Connor

Dr. Robert O’Connor, current Chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine


In 1974, Emergency Medical Services was established at UVA, with staffing by surgery and medicine residents as well as medical students with no specialty training in emergency medicine. The annual patient census at the time was 35,000.

The first certification of emergency physicians by ABEM occurred in May 1980. In 1982, UVA hired its first group of full-time physician faculty dedicated solely to caring for patients in emergency medical services. By 1987, Emergency Medicine was formally recognized as a Division within the Department of Medicine. In 1992, 58,500 patients were treated in the department, including 14,500 children.

In 1994, the Division became independent and was overseen by the Dean of the School of Medicine and 24 hour per day faculty coverage was started. That same year, the application to create a residency program in emergency medicine was approved and the first class began in 1995.

Then in April 1995, the Department of Emergency Medicine was founded and Dr. Scott Syverud was named Interim Chair. In 1996, Dr. Marcus Martin was named Professor and Chair of Emergency Medicine. From 1996 to 2000, the number of faculty increased from 11 to 16. The current faculty offices opened in 1997.

uva health systemThe Emergency Department underwent significant renovations in 1999 through 2000 with modifications in 2016 and 2017. However, with the increase in patient visits, availability of services and consultations as well as the increase in acuity and need for privacy, the renovations could not keep up with demands. The gap proved to be noteworthy to both the UVA Board of Visitors and the Health System Operating Board which approved the construction of a new tower that would be constructed on a foundation of Emergency Medicine.

view of new emergency department lobby and signIn October 2019, the UVA Health South Tower, with the first floor devoted strictly to Emergency Medicine and the ground floor devoted to EMS arrival, opened for patient care. The new space provides for private patient rooms and spaces designated for pediatrics, triage areas, behavior health, and trauma care.

Additionally, a new helipad with elevator service directly to the department will open in 2020. Renovation of the old emergency department will lend to observation areas as well as defined administrative and management areas for clinical management teams and team development.


We continue to diversify our faculty in gender and ethnicity as well as expand views in fields of emergency medicine and passions for research and collaborative efforts across Grounds. Over time, the demand for our faculty, within leadership positions at UVA Health and the University, as well as an expanded number of patients, has led to more than doubling the number of faculty within the department.

Furthermore, our residency program has expanded from 10 to 12 residents per year to 30 to 36 residents per year. In addition to residency, we created a required 3rd year clerkship in emergency medicine for medical students, which relies heavily on the use of medical simulation. Our department was an early pioneer of simulation education at UVA.

We have a growing research enterprise with a number of active clinical trials and a capable research support staff; assigning a vice-chair for clinical research as well as hiring on a full time research manager, data analyst, two clinical research coordinators, and numerous part-time medical research scribes. Our research projects range from disaster readiness to automotive safety to prevention and treatment of poisonings.