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UR Medicine / Anesthesiology / History



Strong Memorial Hospital

The Early Years

The first anesthetic was administered at Strong Memorial Hospital in January 1926, shortly after the hospital opened.  At that time nurse anesthetists administered anesthesia under surgical supervision.  In the early 1950’s anesthesia services at Strong were provided exclusively by a group of 13 nurse anesthetists under the direction of Mrs. Helen Geiss, the chief nurse anesthetist.                              

In 1950, Dr. Robert Sweet was recruited as the first Chairman of the newly formed Division of Anesthesiology which was part of the Department of Surgery.  He was the only physician member of the division and he directed and supervised the nurse anesthetists who were very pleased when he arrived.  Dr. Sweet left Rochester in 1952 to Chair the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Michigan. 

Dr. Nicholas Greene was appointed Chairman of the Division in 1953.  Shortly after he arrived, he appointed two faculty members, Drs. David Vernon Thomas and Alastair J. Gillies.  Dr. Greene also recruited Dr. Robert M. Lawrence, a University of Rochester medical student and two other residents from the surgical house staff and established an anesthesiology residency program.  A couple of years later he returned to Yale and brought Dr. Gillies and two of the residents with him.

Dr. Robert Lawrence was the first anesthesiology resident to complete our program.  After completing his residency, Dr. Lawrence joined our faculty where he had a long and distinguished career and provided significant contributions in both the fields of Anesthesiology and Respiratory Therapy.    

Dr. David Vernon Thomas took over the leadership of the Division upon Dr. Greene’s departure.  One of his major accomplishments was to change the practice of the chief surgical resident specifying the anesthetic plan.  This responsibility definitely belonged in the hands of an anesthesiologist.  During his tenure, Dr. Thomas became the first full professor of Anesthesiology and the Chairman of the Department of Surgery gave him full autonomy over the Division of Anesthesiology.  However, the Dean did not support Dr. Thomas’ requests to establish an independent department so he left the Medical Center in 1959.

Alastair J. Gillies, MD: 1969-1983

Alastair GilliesDr. Alastair J. Gillies came back to Rochester in 1959 to assume the role of Professor and Chairman of the Division of Anesthesiology. By the 1960s, the unique contributions of the specialty of anesthesiology were being recognized nationally. In 1962, Dr. Frank Colgan administered the anesthetic for a successful heart surgery on a three pound premature baby at the University of Rochester.  An article covering this amazing story was published in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle newspaper. In 1969, Dr. Gillies was successful in developing a plan to create an independent Department of Anesthesiology that was approved by the leadership of our Medical Center. A few highlights during his tenure include:

  • Recruited a number of excellent faculty members
  • Encouraged the development of an excellent clinical department and residency program with a wide variety of cases being done
  • Established a research program and several faculty members participated in both basic science and clinical research.

Ronald A. Gabel, MD: 1983-1992

Ronald GabelIn 1983, Ronald A. Gabel, M.D. was recruited from Peter Bent Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston to become the Department’s second Chair. A few highlights during Dr. Gabel’s tenure include:

  • Purchased the Department’s first personal computers and established a department-wide Local Area Network
  • Developed first computerized Operating Room Database, and established an Information Systems Group
  • Formed subspecialty groups in cardiac anesthesia, critical care medicine, obstetric anesthesia, pediatric anesthesia, and neuroanesthesia
  • Established a multidisciplinary Pain Treatment Center
  • Developed an Operating Room Management Committee with representatives from Anesthesiology, Surgery, Nursing, and Hospital Administration.
  • Expanded clinical services to the nearby Lattimore Community Surgicenter
  • Built and dedicated Alastair J. Gillies, M.D. Anesthesiology Library in honor of our first Chair

Denham S. Ward, MD, PhD: 1992-2001

Denham WardIn 1992, Denham S. Ward, M.D., Ph.D. was recruited from UCLA as the Department’s third Chair. The following are a few achievements during Dr. Ward’s tenure as Chair:

  • Purchased one of the first Anesthesia Human Patient Simulators in the country
  • Hosted the first international conference on medical simulation
  • Implemented innovative education programs such as the TAPS Program (Training Anesthesiologists as Physician Scientists); the Anesthesiology MBA Program, and various faculty development programs
  • Expanded clinical services to include the development of the Liver Transplant Program and the Preadmission Evaluation Clinic
  • Assumed leadership role in managing the operating rooms at Strong Memorial Hospital
  • Merged with Highland Hospital Anesthesiology Group forming a clinical practice track
  • Expanded basic science and clinical research programs
  • Hosted the Annual Meeting of the Association of University Anesthesiologists
  • Established Ronald A. Gabel, M.D. Excellence in Teaching Award

James L. Robotham, MD, FRCA: 2001-2008

James RobothamIn 2001, James L. Robotham, M.D., F.R.C.A. succeeded Dr. Ward as the Department’s fourth Chair. A few highlights from Dr. Robotham’s tenure as Chair include:

  • Established the Mitochondrial Research & Innovation Group
  • Directed operating room expansion project
  • Implemented novel faculty recruitment strategies including contracting with CGF Anesthesiology Associates during national shortage of anesthesiologists
  • Established Robert M. Lawrence, M.D. First Resident in Anesthesiology Award

Denham S. Ward, MD, PhD: 2008-2011

Denham WardIn 2008, the Department was fortunate to once again have Dr. Ward, who was now the Associate Dean for Faculty Development – Medical Education, return as our Chair. During the last couple of years, Dr. Ward achieved several important things, which included:

  • Expanding the residency program
  • Overseeing the opening of the Medical Center’s new Ambulatory Surgical Center and new facilities for the Pain Treatment Center.
  • Working with the faculty in developing a major five-year strategic plan encompassing the Department’s three missions, education, clinical care, and research.

Michael P. Eaton, MD: 2011- Present

Michael Eaton, MD

In 2011, the department selected Michael Eaton as the next chair for the department.  He earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan and his medical degree from Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.  A faculty member at the University of Rochester Medical Center since 1995, he has served as director of cardiac anesthesia and vice chair for clinical affairs.  He is also the executive director of perioperative services at Strong Memorial Hospital with overall responsibility for the operating rooms and all support spaces and staff.