Emergency physicians at Yale gained new status on July 1, when the Yale Corporation elevated the Section of Emergency Medicine, part of the Department of Surgery since 1981, to a full-fledged academic department.

Recognizing the section’s academic excellence, a medical school faculty committee had unanimously recommended that the Corporation establish the new Department of Emergency Medicine, which will be able to recruit its own faculty.

Gail D’Onofrio, M.D., M.S., who has served as section chief since 2005, has been named chair of the new department. D’Onofrio also serves as chief of adult emergency services for Yale-New Haven Hospital, where faculty and residents are responsible for nearly 100,000 patient visits per year.

An emphasis on screening and intervention for emergency patients sets Yale’s department apart from many of its peers. D’Onofrio sees hospital emergency departments not merely as a place to serve patients’ immediate needs, but also as venues where public health services that improve overall health can be provided to patients who lack access to care and fall through the cracks of the health care system. “Emergency physicians are well-trained in emergency medical and trauma care. That’s what we’re here for. But we really have a bigger responsibility than that,” says D’Onofrio, who has published extensively on substance abuse and women’s health interventions in emergency department settings.

Department faculty do research on prehospital care, diagnostic ultrasound, and simulator training for residents. The department boasts three board-certified toxicologists, an active involvement in global health projects, and funding to train 13 residents a year, an unusually large number.

Emergency medicine is a relatively new specialty, with the first residency founded in 1970 and board certification instituted in 1979. It has achieved full academic departmental status at 76 medical schools nationwide, and is a popular discipline among medical students, with 149 programs in the United States training over 1,400 new residents yearly.

D’Onofrio, who began her career as a nurse and taught Boston’s first advanced cardiac life-support classes to physicians, is one of only five female academic emergency medicine department heads in the country. She has aimed for departmental status for the section since taking over as chief in 2005, but credits her colleagues’ “phenomenal” research in helping her to make the case.

“When you look at why we’re great, it’s the depth of our faculty,” D’Onofrio says.