September 17, 2014

The 'father of emergency medicine' dies at age 88

Daily Briefing

    Surgeon Gail Anderson—often called the "father of emergency medicine" for pushing the health industry to recognize emergency medicine as a specialty—died earlier this month at age 88.

    Anderson served as a medical corpsman in Trinidad during World War II, before returning to the United States to study biology at Columbia Union College in Washington, D.C. He attended Loma Linda University Medical School and completed his residency in obstetrics and gynecology in D.C.

    In 1958, Anderson was appointed director of the OB-GYN department at what was then Los Angeles County General Hospital and then went on to become chair of the OB-GYN department at the University of Southern California (USC) Medical Center.

    In 1971, he became the first professor and chair of an academic department of emergency medicine in the United States when he took on those roles at USC's medical school.

    During that time, emergency medicine was a disorganized field, with most EDs staffed by physicians "moonlighting" from a variety of specialties, says Edward Newton, interim chair of the department of emergency medicine at USC. "You might have a dermatologist take care of your appendix," Newton says.

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    Anderson pushed for the health industry to recognize ED care as a specific specialty with specific skills, and it was finally designated as such in 1989. Anderson helped create the American Board of Emergency Medicine and served as its president from 1987 to 1988.

    "Not many people can say that they launched a new medical specialty, but Gail was one of the few individuals who launched a highly successful specialty in emergency medicine," Newton says, adding, "In fact, people now can hardly imagine a hospital without emergency medicine. Gail was not only an astute politician and leader, but he was also highly concerned with the welfare of the individual patients. He set that tone for the entire department for many years to come."

    When Anderson retired in 2002, the USC Medical Center's ED was renamed the Gail Anderson, M.D. Department of Emergency Medicine.

    "The world of medicine has suffered a great loss," says Carmen Puliafito, dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC. She adds, "The USC department of emergency medicine residency program is one of the country's most highly regarded, and that was very much due to Gail's stewardship" (Landen, Modern Healthcare, 9/15 [subscription required]; Brown, Los Angeles Times, 9/15).

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