Dr. Steven E. Ross was not supposed to be on duty that night.

The evening the governor of New Jersey was flown to Cooper University Hospital, his ribs crushed and his left leg snapped, Ross had traded shifts with another surgeon - who ended up being "very happy that I had switched."

For Ross, a self-described "adrenaline junkie" and veteran surgeon, it was just another night in the Camden trauma unit he has run for nearly two decades.

Before Gov. Corzine was rolled in on a hospital gurney - "one that I've slept on a few times" - Ross isn't quite sure what he was doing, but "I was probably complaining that I was bored."

From stabbings and car crashes, wounded police and firefighters, the 55-year-old Ross has built a career caring for the critically injured in one of the most crime-ridden urban areas in the country.

"The governor was lucky to have me here," he said. "Because I don't faze under pressure."

In an interview last week, hospital officials would not permit Ross to answer questions about Corzine or the April 12 night he was rushed into Cooper.

But Ross, now Corzine's primary attending surgeon, maintains he's giving the governor good care - the same care, for that matter, that he'd give "some homeless person off the street."

Of course, a homeless person doesn't usually inspire a mob of reporters and cameras to stake out Cooper's lobby and hang on Ross' every word.

Ross recently has presided over his share of news conferences - and would rather be treating gunshot wounds, any day.

"This is more stressful for me than taking care of patients," he said in the interview.

Located in the formerly twice-designated "America's Most Dangerous City," Cooper's trauma unit sees some of the most severely injured people south of Trenton.

Recently, the Camden Police Department even credited the unit with stemming the rate of homicides in the city. Ross, however, says the honor is a bit overblown, instead attributing the drop to criminals "not aiming as well as they were."

"We take care of anything they throw at us," he said. "We would prefer to take care of less."

The Cherry Hill resident also discounts his role as Camden struggles to pull itself out of poverty and violence. "There are bad parts of Camden that even the paramedics won't go without a police escort, but I like Camden," he said, and he thinks it has "a reasonable chance of surviving."

Sean Brown usually spends his time crusading against the city's strife. But when the 24-year-old Camden activist was shot in his left leg last summer and treated in Cooper's trauma unit, he said he ran into an unsympathetic Ross.

Brown says other doctors were trying to persuade him to unbend his leg so it could be X-rayed, but it was painful, and he refused. He said Ross overheard the commotion, spun around, and yelled, "Put your leg down!"

"Who is that guy?" Brown said he asked the medical staff. "I don't want him treating me like that."

Richard Cinaglia, Camden's assistant business administrator, had a much different experience. He credits Ross with saving his only daughter's life after a 1987 car wreck in which Claudine, then 17, was heavily brain-damaged. Doctors initially told Cinaglia that Claudine had a 1 in 100 chance of survival.

Ross "told my wife we would have our daughter but that she would never be the daughter we knew before the accident," Cinaglia said. Claudine lived until 2003 - and Cinaglia says he will always be grateful to Ross for those 16 years.

Ross says he tries to have a good bedside manner with patients. But when it comes to overseeing the trauma center, he tends to follow the philosophy of an unlikely role model: Attila the Hun.

"Although he was very powerful and would kill people out of hand," Ross explains, Attila "was trying to develop the best benefit for the tribe" - in Ross' case, the trauma center and its patients.

But in general, he says, "the words I would use to describe my management style are probably not printable."

Says nurse Pat Osterheldt, who has worked with Ross for 13 years: "He doesn't like any laziness. When you have a job to get done, he expects it to be done."

Though he is more accustomed to barking out orders than taking them, Ross has displayed signs of deference to Corzine's staff. During a news conference last week, Ross was asked what narcotic painkiller doctors had given the governor.

He looked up at Corzine aides. "I don't know, can I? Does anybody care?" The aides shrugged, and Ross told reporters it was morphine.

Ross can empathize with Corzine. He suffered broken ribs in a skiing accident more than a decade ago, and says that it is indeed very painful.

Ross, who attended Thomas Jefferson University Medical School in Center City and was trained at York Hospital in Pennsylvania, is married and has three grown children, none in medicine. "God, no. Because they watch my lifestyle, and I've talked them out of it. My youngest daughter's boyfriend is pre-med, and I keep trying to talk him out of it."

He watches colleagues burn out from high-pressure trauma work all the time, and can't quite explain why he's still going: "It's because I haven't become normal yet."

Even if he had not been on duty that night, he would have been called in eventually, as head of the trauma unit. When asked to name the best doctor in the unit, he said, "Me."

Over the years, Ross has filled down time by playing bagpipes in the trauma unit, which he later abandoned in favor of the guitar after staff members complained they couldn't hear the phone. He likes movies (especially Star Wars, his staff says) and is a fan of the Philadelphia Phantoms hockey team.

Last week, in between treating Corzine and briefing reporters, Ross continued to treat a number of other trauma center visitors - "falls, car crashes, head injuries."

You know, he said, "the usual."

Contact staff writer Elisa Ung at 609-989-9016 or eung@phillynews.com.