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Benjamin Chih-An Sun, MD, MPP, FACEP

One of the Emergency Medicine Foundation’s Trailblazers of Research

Forty years ago, the Emergency Medicine Foundation started down an unexplored path of research to help form the specialty of emergency medicine in the United States. Its success in blazing these uncharted territories and advancing emergency medicine is evident in the achievements of its past grantees.  In this, our 40th anniversary, we will spotlight 12 researchers who credit an EMF grant with jump starting their successful careers in emergency medicine research. As you read these profiles, you can’t help but have a sense of pride in our specialty and in the men and women who have blazed trails to provide the optimal care to our patients.




Benjamin C. Sun
Trailblazers combine skills from various disciplines to clear a path and make it passable for those who will follow.  Benjamin Sun’s early forays into biochemical “wet bench” lab work sparked his interest in research.  His studies at Harvard Medical School inspired an interest in health care policy – to the extent that he took a year out of medical school to complete an MPP at Harvard’s Kennedy School. 

Going against his alma mater’s traditional assessment of emergency medicine as a specialty that was just…not…quite…respectable, Dr. Sun embraced emergency medicine’s fast pace and infinite variety.  “It was a gut decision, really, going into emergency medicine.  But it’s the perfect specialty for my personality,” Dr. Sun says.  “I love the diagnostic puzzle that so many cases present in the emergency department, and I get so much satisfaction from the relatively immediate gratification I get from making a difference in a patient’s condition so quickly.”

Dr. Sun knew he needed to get busy finding mentors whose work also reflected his policy research interests.  One early mentor was Dr. Helen Burstin, then the Director of Quality Measurement at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and now the Senior Vice President for Performance Measures for the National Quality Forum.  Other research mentors along the way include Dr. Carlos Camargo, Dr. Jim Adams, Dr. Carol Mangione, Dr. Steve Asch, Dr. Bill Mower, and Dr. Jerry Hoffman. 

“There are three things that are essential to becoming a medical researcher,” Dr. Sun says. “First, the formal research training.  Second, strong mentoring relationships.  And third, financial and institutional support for the work you’re doing.”

“Thanks to EMF, which supported me very early in my career, and to the funders who continued to support researchers, I’ve been able to study the policy aspects of disease states like syncope, and the health impacts of policies and procedures in the emergency department.”

Dr. Sun received EMF grants as a medical student and resident. With this support, Dr. Sun completed a three-part research program to identify and validate determinants of patient satisfactions with emergency department care, and to test an intervention to improve patient satisfaction.  This early work was essential for research skill development and convinced Dr. Sun to seek further research training at the UCLA Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program.  As a faculty member at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center and UCLA, and most recently at the Oregon Health and Science University, Dr. Sun’s research interests have focused on emergency department crowding and developing cost-effective algorithms for evaluating older patients with syncope.

Dr. Sun’s early work on emergency department crowding in Los Angeles County were supported by an EMF Health Policy grant; these pilot data were then used to obtain additional grant funding from the Agency for Health Research Quality to study emergency department crowding in a regional health system and in the state of California.  Dr. Sun’s work on geriatric syncope also has been supported by private foundations and the NIH, and he recently completed a randomized trial comparing the effectiveness of an emergency department observation protocol with routine hospital admission.

In the midst of leading trials, teaching, publishing and serving on committees, Dr. Sun has found time to enjoy the outdoors in Oregon with his wife and their 2-year-old daughter.  This Trailblazer looks forward to the future challenges in emergency care, convinced there are remedies to be reached through investigating best practices in policy, as well as in treatment.

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