Volume 10, No. 3 • Fall 1995

APSF Mainstay J. S. Gravenstein Steps Down from Posts

Ellison C. Pierce, Jr., M.D.

J.S. (Nik) Gravenstein, after ten years of dedicated service, is retiring from membership on the APSF Board and Executive Committee. Nik is clearly one of the most remarkable persons that I have ever known; his resignation resulted from his strong belief that it is time to replace him with someone younger and full of fresh ideas. While the other members of the Executive Committee acquiesced to his determination to retire, they clearly did not accept his comments that a younger, newer member would provide more input. In short, Nik has been a real idea man throughout the life of the Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation.

He was born in Berlin and served during World War II in the German Navy, as a medical corpsman. It is interesting to note that in 1939 he lived with an aunt in the United States attending high school in Ohio, where he was at the time of the outbreak of World War II. He returned to Germany in early 1940.

When he was mustered out of the Navy, Berlin, of course, had been destroyed and Nik had no family there. Fortunately for anesthesiology, a German physician with whom he had worked in the Navy returned to practice in Bonn and befriended Nik in the immediate post-war period, helping him to matriculate at the University of Bonn Medical School. He was graduated in 1951. He then did an anesthesia residency in Basel, where in 1952 he met Harry Beecher, then Isiah Dorr Professor of Research & Teaching in Anaesthetics & Anaesthesia at Harvard. Dr. Beecher urged him to come to the Massachusetts General Hospital and this Nik did. He was, possibly, the only fully licensed physician that Harvard ever had as a medical student when Nik decided to add an American medical school education (Class of ’58) to his background.

Shortly thereafter, he was invited to be the first Chief of Anesthesiology at the new University of Florida College of Medicine, Gainesville, where he remained, in that position, until 1969.

For the succeeding ten years he was Director of Anesthesiology at University Hospital of Cleveland and Professor at Case Western Reserve. He then returned to Gainesville as Graduate Research Professor in Anesthesia, where he is today.

His bibliography is extensive, as is his list of eponymous and other invited lectures all over the world. He has been instrumental in promoting development of understanding of monitoring in anesthesia, especially in the technological areas of capnography and pulse oximetry. His knowledge in this area has been the subject of numerous publications, including his book with David Paulus entitled Clinical Monitoring Practice. Among his many honors was a Doctor of Medicine, Honoris Causa, granted by the Graz Medical School in Austria.

Nik is a calm and collected person, never upset or excited. He promotes safe anesthesia and the advancement of knowledge in the field with little effort. He has assisted many members of his department at Gainesville in directions of note, especially in the development of the Gainesville Simulator and its current extensive utilization.

In his last letter to me, commenting on his resignation, Nik made some strategic points. He noted that safety in anesthesia is still a very big issue because it truly is not as safe as it is made out to be. In this issue of the APSF Newsletter you can see his thoughts on this subject.

He further noted that the overwhelming clamor for cost reduction has drowned out much talk about safety. APSF should be the standard bearer in this discussion.

In looking at specific points to be pursued, he listed examination of safety and cost containment, evaluation of the patient safety research activities (especially in view of the expected economic strictures), establishment of working groups to examine factors that define the forces at work when new drugs or instruments are brought to market, and lastly examination of personnel and training and the importance of teamwork in anesthesia and surgery. Clearly these thoughts are of strategic importance when we continue to examine our goals.

Nik and his wife, Alix, have eight children, three of whom have gone into medicine and one into veterinary medicine. In all of my career, I have not met a greater gentleman who has contributed more to the specialty of anesthesia than Nik Gravenstein. His retirement from the APSF Board and Executive Committee is a significant loss. We wish him well.

Ellison C. Pierce, Jr., M.D. President, APSF