Laura Rosenberger was either 4 or 5 when she bounced out of her pediatrician’s office one day exclaiming, “I want to be just like Dr. Kopp when I grow up.” Rosenberger didn’t recall the incident but it became family lore as the years passed and Rosenberger didn’t waver in her desire to become a physician.
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Little Laura also knew Dr. Nel Kopp from church. Her family and the pediatrician both belonged to University Mennonite Church in State College, Pennsylvania, where Rosenberger grew up. Although State College is home to Penn State, Rosenberger said Eastern Mennonite University was “the natural place for me to go.” Her parents, James Landis Rosenberger ’68 and Gloria Horst ’70 Rosenberger, studied there, as did her brothers, Grant ’99 and Kurt ’06, her sister-in-law Laura Dell’Olio ’99, and a plethora of extended family.
More than family tradition, though, Rosenberger was attracted by EMU’s pre-med program. “Historically, EMU has one of the highest acceptance rates into medical schools,” she said. “It’s a combination of top-notch small classes and excellent faculty who are dedicated to the development of and engaged with their students.”
Aside from science, Rosenberger had won national events as a high school pole vaulter, and she continued at EMU, winning four consecutive national titles. Then, in 2002, Kevin Dare, a friend from high school, died in a vaulting accident during the Big Ten track and field championships. Speaking of the misfortune chokes up Rosenberger 15 years later.
“It was a huge emotional blow and trauma. He died doing what I loved to do,” Rosenberger said. “I took a reset.” She stepped out of track and field during her senior year, dedicating herself to a heavy course load and an evening MCAT exam preparation class.
Pole vaulting remained a love, however. Rosenberger had fallen short of the 2000 U.S. Olympics Trials by two centimeters. She and a Penn State vaulter who had also been close to Dare reflected that Dare would not have wanted them to quit.
After graduating in 2003 from EMU, Rosenberger trained for the 2004 Olympics. “The U.S. standard had gone up and I ultimately didn’t make it over that higher bar,” Rosenberger said. “But I had given it my best and was happy to hang up my track spikes to move on to something I was passionate about and would be my lifelong career.”
Twelve years of study and training ensued: a medical degree from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, master’s degree in clinical research and surgical residency at the University of Virginia, and a breast surgical oncology fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
Rosenberger is now an assistant professor in the Department of Surgery at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, where she cares for patients, educates students and residents, and does breast cancer research.
Breast surgical oncology suits Rosenberger in a couple of ways. Surgery satisfies her desire for a definitive answer to a medical problem. “I love the operating room where there’s a well-defined problem and the performance of technical invasive procedures that cure the disease or alleviate symptoms.”
In addition to using technical expertise, Rosenberger wanted a practice that allows her to develop relationships with patients.
“With other cancers, no one frets about putting that organ into a bucket; no one is emotionally tied to their colon. It is very different with a breast, so tied to a woman’s identity, due to culture and media, and to feelings that it may have nourished her children. Surgery, a necessity for breast cancers, comes with a lot of personal emotion, and I help a woman walk through the journey of separating the breast from her identity.” Most women also like having a female surgeon.
She sees most patients regularly for five years. “I’m very thankful for this field I chose. It’s a really good fit for me and a privilege to care for women who put their immediate trust into you as their surgeon.”
Rosenberger met her husband, David Mauro, now an interventional radiologist, during her general surgery residency at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. They work in his home region in North Carolina, and attend Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship with their 2-year-old daughter, Ziva Rosenberger Mauro.
“It goes without saying but it bears repeating that nobody gets anywhere on their own,” Rosenberger said. “I’m so thankful and fortunate to have been guided well all along the way, from church, family, and academic faculty. I’ve been able to do what I do because I’ve been fortunate with a well-resourced and well-supported life. I’m very blessed and very lucky.”