Peter Rosen was larger than life, extraordinary in vision, language, and character. His work inspired, guided, and shaped our specialty through lectures and writing, and more directly as a mentor to countless students, residents, and practicing physicians who carry on his passion and vision for emergency medicine. His productivity—books, articles, editorials, lectures, and national leadership—defined the specialty of our field as we know it, and many justly consider him to have been the “father of emergency medicine.” His appointment as the first emergency physician to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences was an appropriate recognition of a life devoted to our specialty.
Explore This IssueACEP Now: Vol 38 – No 12 – December 2019
I knew Peter—as he always insisted on being called, never “Dr. Rosen” except with patients—my entire life. He was my uncle and became a father figure to me. Later, he was my mentor, as a student and during residency, and finally a colleague.
I am lucky to have visited Peter a week before his passing. Over steaks and Diet Cokes, we shared stories about the early days of emergency medicine. We worried over threats to our specialty: ED crowding and the commoditization of our physician colleagues by large corporate groups. He cared deeply for emergency medicine and felt that his mission was not over. At the time of his death, he had recently decided to record podcasts that would have covered the history of emergency medicine and also tried to help guide its future.
Peter Rosen was born to Jewish parents on Aug. 3, 1935, in Brooklyn, New York, where he was raised. He described tearing through the Italian neighborhoods on his bike, armed with a bicycle chain to fight off kids in from other neighborhoods, and lying on the subway tracks while the trains rolled over as a dare with his friends. Perhaps fittingly, he was a devoted fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was particularly fond of Nathan’s hot dogs in Coney Island and steaks at Peter Luger’s.
Peter obtained his B.A. at the age of 20 at the University of Chicago. He was accepted into medical school—on his second attempt, he always pointed out with his usual modesty—at Washington University in St. Louis. After graduating in 1960, he returned to Chicago for an internship in surgery. He completed surgical training at Highland County Hospital in Oakland, California, perhaps the youngest surgeon in the country to graduate that year.
The Vietnam War was raging, and he was drafted into the Army. But as an attending surgeon with the U.S. forces in Germany, he was not enamored by Army rules or its hierarchy. “Captain Rosen’s” sense of humor and rebellious nature were frequently at odds with military expectations. One evening in particular, in annoyance over some banality, he picked up a “hot mic” and announced to the entire base, “Now hear this! The Army sucks. That is all.” As a result of this, he was relegated to a small first-aid station where his “punishment” was to play tennis and chess, thereby reinforcing a life-long strategy of breaking rules he deemed wrong.