Ernest F. Rosato, Surgery

Dr. Ernest F. Rosato, professor of surgery and former chief of the division of gastrointestinal surgery in the Perelman School of Medicine, died January 6 at age 75.

Dr. Rosato was selected to be the speaker at the school’s annual White Coat Ceremony in 2009; he was one of Penn Medicine’s most respected professors, widely known for his surgical mastery, his teaching skills, and his readiness to be a mentor to medical students, residents, and junior members of the faculty. Indeed, as Dr. Rosato made clear in his White Coat remarks, he was very proud to have entered his “second half century” at the Perelman School of Medicine. On that occasion, he spoke about the importance of tradition and evoked a few of the towering figures in Penn’s past who had influenced him and had made him a better surgeon and teacher. The School celebrated Dr. Rosato and his long and illustrious career last February, at the Academy of Natural Sciences.

Dr. Rosato graduated from St. Joseph’s University in 1958. In 1995, his alma mater honored him with the Reverend Clarence E. Shaffrey, S.J. Award, presented in recognition of service and outstanding achievement in the medical profession. After earning his MD degree from Penn in 1962, Dr. Rosato completed his medical training at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in 1968. From that point on, he remained at Penn. During his last year as a surgical resident, Dr. Rosato had also been a Clinical Fellow of the American Cancer Society. Many years later, the Friends of the American Cancer Society honored him with its first Humanitarian Award, recognizing his more than 30 years of clinical and research achievements in the field of surgery. Beginning as an assistant instructor in surgery at HUP, Dr. Rosato rose through the ranks. He was named associate professor of surgery in 1972; professor three years later; and chief of the division of gastrointestinal surgery in 1988. He served as chief until 2004.

Widely known as “the master surgeon of last resort,” Dr. Rosato was particularly interested in gastrointestinal cancer, with a special expertise in esophageal, rectal, and pancreaticobiliary cancer. He was also an expert in surgery for breast cancer and was one of the authors of Breast Cancer Treatment: A Comprehensive Guide to Management (1991).

Over the course of his career, he published some 200 articles and was a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and a member of the American Surgical Association, the Society of University Surgeons, the Society of Surgical Oncology, and the Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract. Dr. Rosato was also honored by nonspecialists: He was frequently included among the “Top Docs” in Philadelphia Magazine and was recognized by Best Doctors in America and by America’s Top Doctors, the latter as recently as 2010.

His teaching abilities resulted in an unprecedented array of teaching awards. In 1977, Dr. Rosato received the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching. In 2008, he was named the recipient of the I. S. Ravdin Master Clinician Award, one of the School’s Awards of Excellence. The award recognizes “a skillful, compassionate practitioner with a long and consistent record of contributions to our school.”

Dr. Rosato learned from and worked with Dr. Ravdin, one of the most famous former chairs of Penn’s department of surgery. Dr. Rosato noted in his White Coat remarks that, despite some paternalism and brusqueness on Dr. Ravdin’s part, “everybody loved Rav because he loved his students and believed in them.” Dr. Rosato shared that same belief in his students—and they clearly recognized his commitment to making them better doctors.

Since 1985, he received the William Y. Inouye Faculty Award 18 times, an award selected by the chief residents of the department of surgery.

Dr. Rosato is survived by his wife, Geraldine; and his children, Ernest F., Jr. (Susannah), William J. (Susan), Rafael F. (Francie), Anthony G. (Kathryn), Gerard M. (Danielle), Philip R. (Michelle), Catherine J. Reilly (Lt. Col. Brendan Reilly, USMC) and David A. (Amy).

Memorial donations may be made to: The Ernest F. Rosato Professorship of Surgery, c/o Penn Medicine Development, 3535 Market St. Suite 750, Philadelphia, PA 19104.