The Language of Medicine

Heather Rosen forged a nontraditional path into the medical profession and came out a better doctor.
ByLaurie Moore

Unlike many of her peers, Heather Rosen didn’t always know she wanted to be a doctor.

Now a seventh-year general surgery resident, it’s hard to imagine Rosen as anything else. In her crisp white coat and blue scrubs, Rosen strides briskly down the hallways of the hospital, comfortable in her environment yet alert and on-call.

But when she came to USC Dornsife as an undergraduate, she was undecided. Very undecided.

To find her niche, Rosen explored courses from literature to ceramics and eventually declared a French major. Upon graduation, however, she realized a career in the field wasn’t the right fit for her.

Coming from a family of physicians, Rosen began to consider a career in medicine. She returned to USC Dornsife in 1997 and took an organic chemistry class taught by Larry Singer, professor of chemistry.

“Larry and I started a dialogue about how there weren’t any programs to help people like me get into medical school,” Rosen said.

As a result, Singer and Rosen founded the USC Post Baccalaureate Premedical Program to support graduates without formal science backgrounds who want to pursue medical careers. 

Rosen graduated from the Keck School of Medicine of USC in 2004 and earned a master’s degree from the Harvard School of Public Health in 2008. She currently oversees patient care, performs surgeries and manages residents at the USC University Hospital and the LAC+USC Hospital. In July, she began a fellowship in plastic and reconstructive surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Her background in writing and speaking extensively in French and English helps Rosen communicate with her patients more effectively. “People always ask me, ‘If you had to do it over again, would you be a science major?’ And I say, ‘No. I’m happy with the road I took. It made me better.’”

In late 2010, Rosen treated a young boy who entered the trauma ward with injuries so extensive he was unidentifiable. So, months later, when she was stopped outside the hospital by a woman who thanked Rosen for helping her son, it took Rosen a moment to recognize the same boy smiling up at her.

“He shook my hand,” Rosen said. “This is why I do my job. This boy is alive and well, and the family is a family again.”

Every one of her patients has made a mark on her life, Rosen said. “They’ve all been woven into the fabric of who I am as a physician.”


Read more articles from USC Dornsife Magazine’s Spring/Summer 2011 issue