Friday, August 2, 2013

James Rathmell named first Beecher professor


TREATING PAIN: From left, Slavin, Jeanine Wiener-Kronish, MD, chief of the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine, Rathmell, and Dr. Jeffrey Flier, MD, dean of HMS (Photo courtesy of Suzanne Camarata Photography)

James P. Rathmell, MD, executive vice chair and chief of the Division of Pain Medicine in the MGH Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine, has been named as the inaugural incumbent of the Henry Knowles Beecher Professorship of Anesthesia. The endowed chair is named for the late Beecher, an internationally known anesthesiologist who also is considered the father of the double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.

“It is fitting that Dr. Rathmell be named as the first incumbent as he and Dr. Beecher shared so many similar goals – primarily to discover the most effective means to relieve pain for patients,” said MGH President Peter L. Slavin during a June 7 ceremony. “Dr. Rathmell dedicates the majority of his time to patient care and the education of physicians specializing in pain medicine and has played a central role in the development and publication of international clinical guidelines that have improved the safety and consistency of pain treatment.”

Chief of the division since 2008, Rathmell is dedicated to strengthening and enhancing education and training programs both locally and nationally. He recently led a national multidisciplinary task force that designed pain medicine education in the U.S. and previously authored new fellowship training requirements implemented by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). In addition, Rathmell is vice chair of the ACGME Review Committee for Anesthesiology, where he guides the implementation of these new standards that govern pain subspecialty training for all physicians, including anesthesiologists, physiatrists, neurologists and psychiatrists.

“I am deeply honored to serve as the first incumbent to the Henry Knowles Beecher Professorship in Anesthesia. Dr. Beecher and I have some similarities, and our coming together in this way seems somehow fitting,” says Rathmell. “The one link that perhaps ties us best is our interest in pain. Dr. Beecher spent his career trying to perfect the measurement of pain in the laboratory. My own career has focused on finding safer and more effective pain treatments and training physicians in the new medical specialty called pain medicine. I will still spend the majority of my time caring directly for patients and the Beecher professorship will allow me the flexibility to maintain my research and teaching efforts uninterrupted.”

During the ceremony, Slavin also welcomed members of Beecher’s family and outlined a few of the physician-researcher’s significant contributions to the field. Some of Beecher’s many clinical breakthroughs stemmed from his experiences serving in the U.S. Army in North Africa and Italy during World War II, when he consulted on resuscitation and anesthesia techniques for badly wounded soldiers. Beecher, who was named anesthetist-in-chief at the MGH in 1936, also was lauded for his efforts to institute informed consent standards to protect the rights of patients involved in research studies. 

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