Remembering Dr. Edward H. Bossen

By Jamie Botta

On June 24th, 2023, Professor Emeritus of Pathology Edward Hecht Bossen, MD, passed away at the age of 83.  He had a 47-year career at Duke, 40 of which he dedicated as a faculty member in the Department of Pathology. Bossen was an esteemed colleague, teacher, mentor, and friend to many.

“Dr. Bossen was a beloved faculty member of our department, an outstanding pathologist and educator and a wonderful person,” said Pathology Department Chair Jiaoti Huang, MD, PhD. We have just lost a very dear friend, but his legacy will always live among us.”

In 1961, Bossen moved from Florida to North Carolina to attend Duke University Medical School. After he graduated, he completed an internship, residency, and fellowship at Duke between 1965 and 1970, while also serving in the US Army Reserve.  From 1970-1972, he was assigned to the prestigious Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C.   In 1972 he completed his service and returned to join the Duke faculty, working his way to Professor of Pathology in 1980. 

 “I had never heard of Pathology until my second year in medical school when I took my Pathology course,” Bossen wrote. “It was a surprise to me that you could make a career of something as interesting as diagnostic pathology. I decided Pathology was the career for me, and Duke was the best place for my training.”

During the early years of his career, there were no multi-headed microscopes and signing out a case took a whopping seven to ten days to complete. Bossen became a master of electron microcopy and a muscle pathology expert, writing a course book titled “Diseases of Skeletal Muscle.” He also paved the way for one of the first muscle biopsy diagnostic services in the nation.  He went on to develop it into a nationally recognized consultative service, and led the service for 40 years until his retirement in 2012, when he was named Professor Emeritus. During his tenure, he served in many administrative roles, including director of Surgical Pathology, director of Anatomic Pathology, associate director of Cytopathology, and as director of the Residency Training Program from 1984-1987. Bossen was widely recognized as an expert general surgical pathologist, and served as a consultant on difficult cases to many of his colleagues over the years.

A little-known aspect of his career is that he was a foundational person in pathology informatics. In the mid-1970s, a group of Duke researchers developed the Duke Hospital Information System (DHIS), one of the first hospital information systems created and still in use in many medical centers.  Bossen was instrumental in connecting the Pathology Department to this system and teaching faculty how to use it.

Dr. Bossen lectures medical students
Dr. Bossen lectures medical students

He was also renowned as a teacher, who positively impacted the lives and careers of many generations of resident and fellow trainees. He continued to serve as a mentor after his retirement and to continue his research activities, never giving up on his effort to advance the field and help his colleagues.

“I am happy to say that I picked the right career and institution for me,” wrote Bossen. “As a pathologist you are not bound to a single area of medicine. Every day there are surprises to be seen under the microscope that may spark a research interest or just make you want to explore the disease process you have observed. Every day is a learning experience. If you are a compulsive observer and learner, Pathology is the field for you.”

The Department established the Edward H. Bossen Team Player Award in 2016 to honor the resident or fellow who has distinguished themselves in their commitment, values, work ethic and contribution to team morale.  Recipients are chosen by votes from faculty and their peers. Our most recent 2023 winners were Derald Charles, MD, and Meg Lee, MD.

“Ed Bossen was one of the finest teachers of pathology that I ever encountered,” said former Pathology Department Chair Salvatore Pizzo, MD, PhD. “But more than that, he was one of the finest human beings that I have ever known. I am immensely sad to hear of his passing.”

Ed is survived by his beloved wife, Roxana; his daughters Deborah Bossen Lorber (Brian), Barbara Bossen (Gary Asher), and Rebecca Bossen McHugh (Patrick); his grandchildren Hannah Lorber, Malcolm Lorber, Joshua Deena, Priya Deena, Isaac McHugh; step-grandchildren Jacob Asher, Jonas Asher, Lily Asher, and Rina Asher; his sister, Judith Branting, and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.

Read his obituary here.

Read “Surprises Every Day,” an article Bossen wrote for the Pathology Annual Report in 2019, here.

Colleagues Remember Dr. Bossen

 “Every time I feel like I am frustrated by a difficult case, I hear Dr. Bossen’s voice in my head telling me to just put the case down and look at it tomorrow with fresh eyes,” said Rex Bentley, MD.  “It is amazing how a hard case can become easy if you follow that advice.”    

“Ed Bossen was central to our department as diagnostician, leader, teacher, mentor, and wise counselor,” said Anne F. Buckley, MD, PhD.  “He was central to my working life as practice partner, advisor, role model, and friend. I will miss him always.”

 “Ed Bossen was a quiet, unassuming man, but his unwavering enthusiasm for his work and life spoke volumes, said David Howell, MD, PhD.  “As a resident, I once brought him a big stack of biopsies for review, eliciting the response, ‘If something like that lands on your desk in the morning and your first reaction is euphoria at the prospect of challenge and discovery, you’ve chosen the right profession.’”

“Ed absolutely worshiped his family – his children, his grandchildren, and particularly his wife Roxana,” said William Webb Johnston, MD’59, who started the Division of Cytology within the Department of Pathology and served as the Chief of Cytopathology for 25 years until his retirement. “They were a wonderful family, and Ed adored them. Through the final years of Ed’s life, we established some correspondence from time to time, and talked to each other during the COVID epidemic. Ed finally decided that what he wanted to do in retirement was return to a study of Shakespeare. Isn’t that just like Ed?

“Ed Bossen was my greatest teacher of pathology, but he taught me even more about kindness, patience, and the pleasure of having colleagues who take joy in their work,” said John Madden, MD, PhD.

"I will miss our walks together, his wonderful sense of humor and laugh with a twinkle in his eye, his extraordinary humanity,” said Susan Reeves, a former Photopath director. “With his vast knowledge, it was fascinating to hear his perspective on most any topic. Always positive, giving, teaching, it was truly a privilege to spend time with Dr. Bossen."

“I worked with Dr. Bossen for many years performing his muscle immunohistochemistry procedures, and we did several muscle workshops together,” recalled Wayne Terrell, histotechnologist and winner of the inaugural Donald Love Service Award in 1995. “I called him ‘Dr. B,’ and we also had a nickname for him – ‘Easy Ed’ - because of his calm demeanor. No matter what problem would arise, he always maintained the same calmness. He was more than a boss. I considered him a friend outside of the work environment. He would always razz me about the Tar Heels, with him being Duke Fan. He will truly be missed.”

“Dr. Bossen was one of my main “go to” people for QA/QI,” said Susan Cook Watson, program coordinator. “He taught me numerous things over the years, for instance, how to calculate surgical pathology turnaround times along with how to keep our QA/QI reporting CAP compliant. For reporting purposes and lists in general, Dr. Bossen liked to see everyone listed in alphabetical order (last name, first name) and would readily point out anything that needed ‘fixing.’ Patient, kind and considerate, he will be missed.”