Iserson, Kenneth Victor 1949-

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ISERSON, Kenneth Victor 1949-

PERSONAL: Born April 8, 1949, in Washington, DC; son of Isadore Irving and Edith (Swedlow) Iserson; married Mary Lou Sherk (a C.P.A.), June 16, 1973. Education: University of Maryland, College Park, B.S., 1971; University of Maryland School of Medicine, M.D., 1975; studied surgical practice at Mayo Clinic, 1975; studied emergency medicine at University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, 1976-78; University of Phoenix, M.B.A. (valedictorian), 1986. Politics: "Liberal." Religion: Jewish.

ADDRESSES: Office—Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Arizona, College of Medicine, Box 245057, 1501 North Campbell Ave., Tucson, AZ 85724. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Cincinnati General Hospital, Cincinnati, OH, emergency medicine residency, 1976-78, chief resident, 1977-78; Community Mercy Hospital, Onamia, MN, general practice, 1976; Division of Emergency Medicine, Texas A&M University College of Medicine, clinical associate professor and chairman, 1980-81; University of Arizona College of Medicine, department of emergency medicine, emergency physician, 1981—, assistant professor, 1981-85, associate professor, 1985-92, professor, 1992—. Senior fellow in Bioethics, University of Chicago, 1990-91; ER (television show), ethics advisor, 1994—. Has appeared in many documentaries on death in the U.S., Japan, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Military service: U.S. Air Force, Carswell AFB, Fort Worth, TX, 1978-80, became captain and director of emergency medicine.

MEMBER: American College of Emergency Physicians (Bioethics Committee), American Medical Association, Emergency Medicine Foundation, European Society for Philosophy of Medicine and Health Care, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine (National Affairs Committee), American Society for Bioethics and Humanities, Southern Arizona Rescue Association (medical director), Disaster Medical Assistance Team (AZ-1), Wilderness Medical Society, University Medical Center Bioethics Committee (chair), Arizona Bioethics Program (director), Department of Emergency Medicine Promotion and Tenure Committee (chair), Society of Teachers of Emergency Medicine (now SAEM; president, 1982-83), Arizona Medical Association, Authors Guild, American Philosophical Association, Society of Southwestern Authors, Pima County Medical Society, Emergency International, Pan American Medical Development Program (board of directors), Medical Society of the United States and Mexico (vice-president, 2002-04).

AWARDS, HONORS: Diplomate, American Board of Emergency Medicine, 1980; fellow, American College of Emergency Medicine, 1982; senior fellow in bioethics, Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, University of Chicago, 1990-91; Arizona Emergency Medical Services Council, appointed by governor, 1990-91; Arizona Legislative Committee on Advance Directives, appointed by governor, 1991-92; award for best reference books, New York Public Library, 1994, for Death to Dust: What Happens to Dead Bodies?


(Editor, with A. B. Sanders, D. R. Mathieu, and A. E. Buchanan) Ethics in Emergency Medicine, Williams & Wilkins (Baltimore, MD), 1986, 2nd edition, with legal introduction by Alexander Morgan Capron, Galen Press (Tucson, AZ), 1995.

Getting into a Residency: A Guide for Medical Students, Camden House (Columbia, SC), 1988, 6th edition published as Iserson's Getting into a Residency: A Guide for Medical Students, Galen Press (Tucson, AZ), 2003.

(Editor) Wilderness Medical Society: Position Statements, 1989, The Society (Point Reyes Station, CA), 1989.

Death to Dust: What Happens to Dead Bodies?, Galen Press (Tucson, AZ), 1994, 2nd edition, 2000.

Get into Medical School!: A Guide for the Perplexed, Galen Press (Tucson, AZ), 1997, 2nd edition, 2004.

Non-Standard Medical Electives in the U.S. andCanada, Galen Press (Tucson, AZ), 1997, published as Non-Standard Medical Electives in the U.S. and Canada, 1998-1999, 1998.

Grave Words: Notifying Survivors about Sudden,Unexpected Deaths, Galen Press (Tucson, AZ), 1999.

Demon Doctors: Physicians As Serial Killers, Galen Press (Tucson, AZ), 2002.

Dying to Know: A Compendium of the Mortal, Morbid, and Macabre, Galen Press (Tucson, AZ), 2004.

Producer of teaching aids, including educational video and teaching slide set of The Grave Words: Notifying Survivors about Sudden Unexpected Deaths.

Also author of over 150 professional journal articles, textbook chapters, and other publications. Reviewer for medical journals, including Annals of Emergency Medicine, American Journal of Emergency Medicine, American Journal of Diseases in Children, Journal of the American Medical Association, Archives of Internal Medicine, Pediatrics and Journal of Clinical Ethics. Editor for Journal of Emergency Medicine, Hospital Ethics Committee Forum, and Cambridge Quarterly. Member of editorial board, Journal of Emergency Medicine, 1982, and Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, 1991.

SIDELIGHTS: Kenneth Victor Iserson wrote Death to Dust: What Happens to Dead Bodies? for two reasons. He told CA that he hopes not only to inform the public and professional world of post-death procedures that a body may undergo but also to promote organ and tissue donation. "Corpses deteriorate, no matter what," Iserson commented. "There is no reason not to donate organs and tissues, 'the last, best gift a person can leave behind.'" The book itself is laid out in a question and answer format with information ranging from common questions about burial and cremation, funeral costs, and organ donation, to more unusual possibilities, such as cryogenic preservation and scientific study. Iserson also devotes sections of his book to bizarre practices such as head-shrinking and grave-robbing. Not included in the book is a discussion of the afterlife, since, as Iserson told CA, he "leaves the spiritual side to others, although the religious rites practiced throughout human history and across cultures comprises a fascinating part of my books and talks." The critical success of Death to Dust has led to the author's guest appearances on radio talk shows and speaking engagements at national meetings. "A most curious volume," remarked a critic from Choice, adding that the book "should help individuals make more informed choices concerning autopsy, organ donation, and funeral arrangements. The peculiar facts and stories about the dead have a captivating appeal."

Among Iserson's other books are Ethics in Emergency Medicine and Getting into a Residency: A Guide For Medical Students. Of the first, Iserson told CA, "It is still the only book dealing with unique ethical issues faced by emergency physicians, emergency nurses, and ambulance personnel. My unique background in medicine and ethics and the exciting list of case commentators, brings an interesting flavor to this casebook." Getting into Residency was the best-selling nonclinical book in medical education in its third edition, according to Iserson, who referred to it as "'The Bible' for medical students seeking a postgraduate position. It gives a step-by-step method for getting through the process intact." Iserson continues to be an active part of the emergency medical system in addition to teaching, speaking, writing articles, and performing various administrative duties and offices; he uses his spare time to write books. The author told CA he "firmly believes in the saying, 'It is harder to wear out than to rust out.'" He added that he does not plan on donating his organs and tissues anytime soon (although the card has been signed and next-of-kin notified).

Grave Words: Notifying Survivors about Sudden, Unexpected Deaths was Iverson's next book, which he has also converted to audio-visual teaching aids. Announcing the death of a loved one to next-of-kin is a daunting task that all emergency doctors must face. Despite this unavoidable duty, there has been little written about how to do that. Most training in this area takes place, JAMA's Malinda H. Bell reported, "on the job without benefit of formal instruction." Hence, the generous welcome for Iserson's work, which includes almost every possible scenario that a doctor might have to face, including, wrote Bell, "death as a result of medical error." Bell ended her critique of Iserson's book by suggesting that it become required reading for all resident doctors. Carin E. Reust, for Journal of Family Practice, also recommended Grave Words. One of the aspects that Reust enjoyed was Iserson's inclusion of real life stories that "keep the reader interested." Also included in the book is a discussion of how to notify the survivors, how to approach the subject of organ donation, how to receive an autopsy permission, and how to handle a discussion of viewing the body. At the end of the book, Iserson includes a question-and-answer section that provides readers with a list of some of the most frequently asked questions. Reust concluded that "the uniqueness of this book lies in the details." Iserson appears to have thought of them all. "Death notification can and should be taught," Reust stated, "and this book provides the framework to do so."

The title of his 2002 book Demon Doctors: Physicians As Serial Killers is scary, but so is the possibility, Iserson told CA. The book "details many errors in the way we regulate physicians," Iserson said. "What is particularly interesting, however, is that despite their having the knowledge to kill, often without detection, there have been so few physician-serial killers. We must be doing something right with our selection methods for medical school. When they do become killers, they are ruthless, effective, and very scary—as this book demonstrates." Iserson recounts the details of several doctors who have been involved in murder. They include such personalities as H. H. Holmes (whose story was told in the book Depraved by Harold Schechter), Harold F. Shipman (who allegedly murdered more than four hundred people), and Linda Burfield Hazzard (known as the Starvation Doctor). Topics also included are the so-called medical experiments practiced by Japanese and German doctors during World War II. Booklist's William Beatty christened this book "true-crime historical paydirt."



Archives of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, November, 2001, Joseph Ohr, review of Iserson's Getting into a Residency, p. 1517.

Booklist, February 15, 2002, William Beatty, review of Demon Doctors: Physicians As Serial Killers, p. 976.

Choice, November, 1994, p.479.

JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, April 12, 2000, Malinda H. Bell, review of Grave Words: Notifying Survivors about Sudden, Unexpected Deaths, p. 1888; October 10, 2001, Joseph H. Davis, review of Death to Dust: What Happens to Dead Bodies, p. 1767.

Journal of Family Practice, September, 2000, Carin E. Reust, review of Grave Words, p. 857.