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Paging Dr. Kellermann: Making a Difference

doi: 10.1097/01.EEM.0000383964.73561.0e
Paging Dr. Kellermann


EMN Assistant Editor Angela Munasque interviews one of emergency medicine's best known experts, Arthur Kellermann, MD, MPH, who made a name for himself as a professor and the founding chairman of the department of emergency medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta and the founding director of the Center for Injury Control at Emory's School of Public Health. He was recently appointed to the RAND Corporation's Paul O'Neill Alcoa Professorship in Policy Analysis.

In this excerpt from a longer interview, Dr. Kellermann explains how a mannequin inspired him to pursue emergency medicine, how public health and emergency medicine are intertwined, and why he will never run for public office.

Read a full transcript of this interview in our breaking news blog (, and listen to a podcast of the conversation on at

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How did you decide on emergency medicine, maybe giving us a little bit of background on where you went to school and did your residency?

I'm a graduate of the Emory School of Medicine in the class of 1980. I'd say my interest really came from a lecture in physiology in the first year of med school when John Stone, who is one of the world's top cardiologists, came with Corey Slovis, who's now the chair of EM at Vanderbilt, and [they] basically dragged a mannequin into our clinically-starved basic science focus class, and demonstrated CPR and talked about the physiology of CPR. I just was fascinated. Watching the two of them play off each other, watching them weave science and hands-on care and focus on a technique that's literally lifesaving, I thought, “Now, this is really cool.”

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Can you tell us a bit about how emergency medicine has changed over the years?

Having been directly or indirectly involved in emergency medicine for nearly three decades, it has been just a profound transformation, especially over that period of time. What was once, I think, the brainchild of John Wiegenstein and a handful of physicians who started ACEP and then went from that to nurture the new specialty, through a period of time when EM was considered to have little standing in the house of medicine, to today, the transformation has been mind-boggling. Emergency physicians today are widely regarded as superlative clinicians, capable of a wide range of skills and tasks. They are not only leaders in their hospitals, but leaders in American medicine.

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How are emergency medicine and public health related from your viewpoint?

I think they are absolutely integral partners. Emergency physicians, emergency nurses, emergency care providers, we see what happens when public health fails. Like public health, we are at the interface between the community and the traditional health care system. We're often the first to spot emerging trends, emerging outbreaks of an infectious disease, changes in population health. We don't have the luxury of doing everything for every patient in isolation of the rest of the system because we're managing multiple patients at the same time. We're managing resource-challenged departments. We have to think about the greatest benefit for the community as well as for individual patients. All of those things mean that we share an awful lot in common with our public health colleagues. There are clear differences as well, but I would submit, with the possible exception of preventive medicine, no specialty has more in common with or has a greater impact on public health than emergency medicine.

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If you weren't an emergency physician or a public health expert, what would you be doing?

Boy, that's a tough question. The work that I've gotten to do through my life, I've gotten to be a lot of different roles simultaneously. I might be a schoolteacher, or I would probably be doing something else in public service. My colleagues have joked with me over the years, “Gee, have you ever thought about running for office?” And I said, “Yeah, once, and my wife said she'd divorce me in a heartbeat.” That ambition was taken off the table right away. I'm determined to only be married once.

Read the whole interview or listen to a podcast on to hear Dr. Kellermann's advice for residents, how he balances work with his personal life, and how one patient made him realize he had to fight patient dumping.

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.