ACEP Member Questions Campaign Policy
By Liam Yore, MD, FACEP
ACEP is a large and diverse group of emergency care providers united around the core mission of providing the best possible care to the patients we serve. While we all share the same goals, there has rarely been unanimity in regard to the best way to accomplish them. Indeed, the spirit of emergency medicine has seemed to select the individualists and contrarians in the house of medicine. In a way, this makes sense: emergency physicians are the crazy ones who were told that there was no such thing as emergency medicine but founded the specialty anyway. We accomplish the impossible every day in the nation’s resource-starved emergency departments using nothing more than duct tape and baling wire. We are members of a specialty composed of doers and visionaries; the best way to get emergency physicians to do something is to tell them it cannot be done.
Getting 30,000 fractious and energetic emergency physicians to agree on anything has always been a challenge, and it has led to some “lively” debates throughout the history of the College. Some very vivid and larger-than-life personalities have emerged as leaders of the Council over the years. Whatever the issue, there was one thing you could be sure of: emergency physicians would not shrink from the debate.
That is why it is so discordant that the ACEP Council Steering Committee has approved a policy restricting the free speech rights of candidates for leadership in the College. In this novel and unusual step, the College has prohibited any candidate for Council office—including the Board of Directors and president of the College—from granting interviews with any media other than ACEP Now.
The Steering Committee, in setting this rule, was presumably well-intentioned in its stated goal of creating the environment for a fair election. Regardless of the intention, the effect is exactly opposite of what the leadership should strive for: the appearance of transparency and avoidance of perceived bias.
First and foremost, this is an unconscionable prior restraint on the free speech rights of the candidates. Under this policy, candidates who wish to explain their policy opinions and vision for the future direction of the College to an independent outlet may not do so. While the College is a private organization that may make its own rules, the principle of the First Amendment demands that any restrictions on freedom of expression be narrowly crafted to serve a compelling interest. The Committee has, to date, offered only a vague and unsupported assurance that this restriction will make the election more fair.