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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.

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 assitance 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.