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RIP, Dr. Gene Kallsen, Fresno’s ‘Father’ of Emergency Medicine

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Dr. Gene Kallsen unexpectedly died in his sleep on Saturday, March 4, 2023. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)
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Fresno lost a giant with the death of Dr. Gene Kallsen, often described and celebrated as the “father” of emergency medical services.

Dr. Kallsen died unexpectedly in his sleep on Saturday, March 4, friends of his family said.

Up until his passing, he led a busy life and often could be seen on morning walks with his wife, Pam, in their northwest Fresno neighborhood. His hobbies included sailing, kayaking, skiing, woodworking, reading, and traveling.

Pioneer in Emergency Medicine

Dr. Kallen served as chief of the UCSF Fresno Emergency Program for nearly 23 years and is the namesake of the university’s Gene W. Kallsen, MD, Endowed Chair in Emergency Medicine.

“We have more than 300 graduates, 12 residents a year, and 40 faculty – so Dr. Kallsen created a special place here,” said Dr. Jim Comes, former chief of the Department of Emergency Medicine.

“Gene was such an amazing human and physician, and he will be missed immensely by all,” said Dr. Danielle Campagne, interim chief of the Department of Emergency Medicine. “His leadership and insight in the early years of developing emergency medicine as a specialty is what has made our EM department so great today.”

Dr. Kallsen chaired the first statewide organization of EMS directors and helped develop the original EMS policies and protocols — many of which remain the basis of today’s guidelines. He also led the effort to improve ambulance response times in Fresno County.

About the residents he trained in the often-frantic emergency room at Community Regional Medical Center, Kallsen once said, “At the beginning of those four years, most of them are a little on the insecure side. Obviously, by definition, they’re green as grass. When they walk out of the door four years later, they’re heroes in my mind.”

Watch: Health Care Hero Dr. Gene Kallsen

Early Life

Dr. Kallsen served on the board of the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust. His bio there describes his childhood and early interest in medicine.

Dr. Kallsen enjoyed sailing trips to the British Virgin Islands, the Greek Islands, SF Bay, Tahiti, and Puget Sound. (San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust)

“Gene grew up in rural Minnesota on a farm raising, cattle, hogs, sheep, horses, and chickens. After assisting a C-section of a cow in a field in a snowstorm Gene saw medicine in his future. Delivering lambs and calves, and piglets and keeping sows from deliriously lying on her piglets.

“Medical school showed Gene that there is more disease and suffering out there than we can ever stamp out. But that opportunity is everywhere.”

Dr. Kallsen graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1969 and from the university’s medical school in 1972. After completing an internship at Harborview Medical Center-University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, he came to Fresno in 1977 and completed his UCSF Fresno residency in 1979.

That same year, the American Board of Emergency Medicine was approved, setting the stage for Dr. Kallsen to play a pivotal role in his specialty throughout his career.

‘We Stand on Doc Kallsen’s Shoulders’

When Dr. Kallsen worked his last shift on Dec. 28, 2018, Rep. Jim Costa presented him with a Congressional Resolution.

“We stand on the shoulders of leaders like Doc Kallsen,” Costa said.

Dr, Kallsen is survived by his wife, Pam Kallsen; his daughter Leslie Williams and her husband, John; daughter Laura Boyd and her husband, Jeff; and five grandchildren.

Gifts honoring Dr. Kallsen’s legacy may be made to the Gene W. Kallsen, MD, Endowed Chair of Emergency Medicine: http://makeagift.ucsf.edu/kallsen

Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email