Robert Martensen, M.D., PH.D.

Robert Martenson

As an historian and physician, Robert Martensen’s interests ranged widely across medical practice, biomedical science, and culture. Perhaps that is why doing historical research at the National Institutes of Health appealed to him strongly, as the agency’s range of inquiry and impact have shaped biomedical research methods and contributed to the public’s perception of medicine. Previously, he explored the origins of neuroscience in the Scientific Revolution, the development of nuclear medicine, and the scientific transformation of United States medicine that occurred during the Progressive Era, among other topics. In 2002 he received a Guggenheim fellowship to complete his book,The Brain Takes Shape: An Early History (Oxford University Press, 2004).

Educated at Harvard (B.A.), Dartmouth (M.D.), and the University of California-San Francisco
( M.A. and Ph.D.), Martensen held several university professorships, including service that involved leading a history of medicine museum and archive, prior to joining the NIH in October 2007. He retired from NIH in 2012.

Robert Martensen passed away September 26, 2013 in Pasadena, California.

Former Directors


Clinical Center Grand Rounds
Wednesday, January 6, 2010 12 noon - 1 p.m.
Human Subjects Research and the Internet Era
Robert Martensen, M.D., Ph.D., Director, Office of History, National Institutes of Health
Listen to the videocast [Videocast]


Institutional Review Boards, Professionalism, and the Internet
May 2010; Volume 2: Issue 30. The author extended his thanks for the editorial assistance provided by Todd Olszewski, Ph.D.

A Life Worth Living: A Doctor's Reflections on Illness in a High-Tech Era (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008). Intended for general readers confronting tough questions about how to navigate serious illness, this book of eight linked tales draws on Martensen’s experiences of caring for approximately 75,000 patients as an emergency physician.

Listen to: End of Life Care in America on Natonal Public Radio's Fresh Air.

“American Medical Professionalism: At Home and In the World,” in Global Bioethics: Issues of Conscience for the 21st Century, ed. Ronald Greene, et al. (London: Oxford University Press, 2008).

“Landscape Designers, Doctors, and the Making of Healthy Urban Spaces in 19th Century America,” in “Restorative Commons: Making Healthy Urban Spaces,” ed. Anne Wiesen (Proceedings of the U.S. Forest Service, special supplement, 2008).

2004 - Present:
(with David S. Jones) “Human Radiation Experiments and the Formation of Medical Physics at the University of California, San Francisco and Berkeley, 1937-1962,” in Useful Bodies: Humans in the Service of Medical Science in the Twentieth Century, ed. Jordan Goodman, Anthony McElligott, and Lara Marks (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), pp. 81-108.

“Plagues and Patients,” in Clio in the Clinic: Doctors’ Stories of Using History in Medical Practice, ed. Jacalyn Duffin (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005), pp. 56-72.

“Bioethics on the Brain,” Medical Humanities Review, 2004,18(1): 27-45.

Former Directors