Emergency Medicine

Phoenix Children's Hospital is home to Arizona's only American College of Surgeons (ACS)-verified Level One Pediatric Trauma Center and is one of the busiest pediatric trauma centers in the nation. Our nationally recognized trauma program and team provides care for all injured children, from infants to adolescents. That sounds impressive, but what does it mean? And more importantly, what difference does it make in the life of your family?

All hospitals are not the same 

Healthcare institutions are not all the same. It matters where you choose to be cared for in your most vulnerable moments and never more so than when an accident or injury occurs.

When it comes to children, the stakes are even higher because children aren't just small adults; they have specific healthcare needs. When children need emergency medical treatment, they require specialized equipment suited to their size, expert medical providers experienced in treating children, medications tailored for their growing bodies, and many other special considerations.

However, as a parent trying to make the best decision for your kids, it becomes difficult to discern which healthcare entity truly offers the best care, since healthcare marketing and messaging get all mixed up with the facts. That’s why there are specific designations in healthcare that help separate consumer fact from fiction.  

What is a Level One Trauma Center? 

A trauma center is a hospital equipped and staffed to treat major traumatic injuries such as wounds, injuries from car accidents, bike accidents, pedestrians struck by cars, and falls, among many others.

Hospitals verified as a trauma center by the ACS and designated by state and local authorities are evaluated every three years by the ACS. They are assigned a status based on the services and processes they offer. Level One verification is the highest designation available and has precise criteria and performance improvement processes that verified centers must have in place.

Verified Trauma Center logo

According to the American Trauma Society (ATS), "A Level One Trauma Center is capable of providing total care for every aspect of injury – from prevention through rehabilitation."

This differs from other healthcare facilities because hospitals that are not Level One Trauma Centers are not required to have the same resources in staffing or the variety of specialists available to treat every aspect of the patient's injury. They may not have round-the-clock access to these specialists (which is very important if an injury were to occur after regular business hours, on the weekend, or during a holiday). 


Level One Trauma Center criteria vary somewhat from state to state, but commonly include these elements, according to the American Trauma Society (ATS): 

  • 24-hour in-house coverage by general surgeons, and prompt availability of care in specialties such as orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, radiology, internal medicine, plastic surgery, oral and maxillofacial, pediatric, and critical care
  • Referral resource for communities in nearby regions
  • Leadership in prevention and public education to surrounding communities
  • Continuing education of the trauma team members
  • Comprehensive quality assessment program
  • Organized teaching and research efforts to help direct innovations in trauma care
  • Program for substance abuse screening and patient intervention
  • Requirement for annual volume of severely injured patients

What does this mean for your family? 

We hope and pray our children never require trauma care, but sometimes unfortunate accidents and injuries occur. As parents, we must do our best to prevent injuries while also preparing for things that may happen that are outside of our control. It's essential, though, that in addition to preventing injuries, you plan for your family in case the unthinkable occurs.

Where will you go if your child is injured? 

In evaluating where to seek the best medical care for my children in an emergency, I look at a few criteria: 

  • Which facilities can treat the most severe injuries in children?
  • Where are pediatric patients often transferred to receive more intensive care?
  • Where can I find experts in all the specialty services my child may need?
  • What facilities treat these types of patients most often, making them more experienced and capable?

Furthermore, I consider that in an emergency, it's not always possible for a caregiver such as myself to determine whether an injury is severe or not. It is prudent to seek care from a hospital equipped and experienced.