Dr. Paul Auerbach
With great sadness, we share that Dr. Paul Auerbach passed away at his home surrounded by loved ones on June 23 from a brain tumor. Dr. Auerbach had a tremendous impact on the field of emergency medicine and on his colleagues and students. He lived a life of service, exploration, and adventure, and will be sorely missed.
Dr. Auerbach is considered by many to be the founder of the Wilderness Medicine specialty. His interest was inspired by an early-career externship with Indian Health Service providing medical care in a low-resource environment in Montana. He commented recently, "We saw snakebites, drowning, lightning strikes, infectious diseases...I kept going to the literature to read, but there was no literature. So I thought, maybe I'll do a book on wilderness medicine."
Notably, Dr. Auerbach helped to create the Wilderness Medical Society and to grow the field of Wilderness Medicine. He went on to train numerous providers in formal and wilderness settings. "When residents ask, 'How do I learn wilderness medicine,' my answer is to go learn the wilderness first. Then learn the medicine," he once said.
Disaster Relief and Humanitarian Work
When the 2010 Haitian earthquake caused widespread devastation, and Dr. Auerbach's chief asked if he would consider traveling to the country to provide medical support, Dr. Auerbach responded, "We have to go," and left right away, despite not knowing the conditions he would find or how long he would stay.
His experience prompted him to create the Stanford Emergency Program for Emergency Response (SEMPER) to ensure that a team of Stanford physicians and nurses could rapidly assemble and deploy to disasters and humanitarian aid efforts. SEMPER has since provided aid and care to thousands around the world, often in dangerous or uncertain circumstances, including the earthquake in Nepal and the California wildfires of 2018. "You've got to be scared when it's appropriate, you've got to be compassionate always...you just have to be able to put things in different places and pull out what you need," he once commented.
As a lifelong outdoor enthusiast, Dr. Auerbach in recent years had turned his focus to the impact of global climate change on the health of individuals and communities. In addition to co-authoring Enviromedics: The Impact of Climate Change on Human Health, Dr. Auerbach was also editor of the textbook Wilderness Medicine, co-author of Field Guide to Wilderness Medicine, and author of Medicine for the Outdoors. Dr. Auerbach also authored numerous articles on topics such as emergency medicine, hazardous marine animals, and scuba diving, and published two books of underwater photography.
Dr. Auerbach was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, served on the National Medical Committee for the National Ski Patrol System, and was an active and award-winning member of the Divers Alert Network, dedicated to improving diving safety for all divers.
Dr. Auerbach received his Doctor of Medicine from the Duke University School of Medicine and completed residency in emergency medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center. Dr. Auerbach also completed a Masters of Science in Management as a Sloan Fellow at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He was the Redlich Family Professor Emeritus in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
He is survived by his wife Sherry, sons Brian and Danny, and daughter, Lauren, who carries on his work as a third-year emergency medicine resident.
In addition to his visionary creation of the Wilderness Medical Society and SEMPER, Dr. Auerbach also leaves a rich and lasting legacy in the hundreds of students he has trained and mentored over the years.
Dr. Auerbach's memorial service was held June 27. A recording of the service can be viewed here.
Dr. Auerbach recently shared why he chose emergency medicine, the inspiration for creating Wilderness Medicine and SEMPER, and some of the most memorable patient stories that shaped his approach to care (below).
We invite you to share a memory of Paul and/or a note for his family and work family below.