Emergency medicine pioneerGail V. Anderson

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Right out of high school, Anderson joined the U.S. Navy to be a corpsman — battlefield medic — in World War II. After the war, he went to medical school in southern California and became a doctor, specializing in OB/gyn. He ended up teaching medicine at the University of Southern California, and in the late 1960s, USC’s Medical Director, Dr. Robert Tranquada, came to him with a problem: the dismal state of emergency room care. There were no standards for emergency room physicians. “I knew how dedicated he was to doing the right things at County-USC,” said Tranquada, who is now an emeritus professor of medicine and health policy. “He was the logical person.”

He was indeed: Anderson created a new department of emergency medicine at USC, and was its first chairman. He worked with E.R. doctors across the nation to set standards, and set up programs to teach those standards, just as another branch of emergency care was spreading in the country: paramedicine, practiced in the field, much like Anderson himself practiced during the war. Before this, doctors in emergency rooms might be any kind of doctor: a surgeon, cardiologist, dermatologist, ophthalmologist, …or even an obstetrician. In 1976, Anderson co-founded the American Board of Emergency Medicine, which now certifies emergency medicine physicians, and it wasn’t until 1979 that the American Board of Medical Specialties voted to recognize emergency medicine as a medical specialty. In other words, paramedics were regularly at work before doctors could be certified as emergency room specialists. Dr. Anderson retired from USC after heading the emergency medicine department for 31 years. He died on September 6, from pneumonia, at 88.

From This is True for 21 September 2014