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The American Society of Anesthesiologists is an educational, research and scientific association of physicians organized to raise and maintain the standards of the medical practice of anesthesiology and improve the care of the patient.


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September 1, 2013 Volume 77, Number 9
2013 ASA Distinguished Service Award Recipient: Jeffrey B. Cooper, Ph.D. Jerry A. Cohen, M.D., ASA Immediate Past President

Jeffrey B. Cooper, Ph.D. will receive the ASA Distinguished Service Award (DSA) at the ANESTHESIOLOGY™ 2013 annual meeting in San Francisco. “The Distinguished Service Award is the highest tribute the Society can pay to an ASA member. It may be given for outstanding clinical, educational or scientific achievement, contribution to the specialty and/or exemplary service to the Society.” First given in 1945, the DSA recognizes the unique contributions made by the recipient to the advancement of the specialty and to ASA that transform the way we practice and advance the specialty of anesthesiology. The criteria quoted above and a list of previous recipients may be found on the ASA website by clicking the “About ASA” link, then “ASA Governance and Committees” and finally “Distinguished Service Award Recipients.”

Dr. Cooper is a biomedical engineer and the first recipient of the award who is not a physician. It is possible that his objective look at our clinical practices and his contributions to anesthesia safety would not have been possible if he had the biases we have as clinicians.

Dr. Cooper’s contributions to the specialty concentrate on and have supported the dramatic advancements in the safety of anesthesia. He is Professor of Anesthesia in the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine at Harvard Medical School and has been at Massachusetts General Hospital since 1972. He was one of the seven founding members of the Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation (APSF) and continues to serve on its executive committee. Dr. Cooper was the author of the APSF mission statement, including “that no patient will be harmed by anesthesia.”

To achieve the goals he crafted in the APSF mission statement, Dr. Cooper applied and developed one of the fundamental key elements of process improvement to anesthesia – human factors analysis. His analysis of critical incidents and human error and its relationship to mortality and morbidity related to anesthetics has evolved over decades into concepts with which we are now intimately familiar. In particular, our use of checklists and anesthesia crisis resource management simulation owe much to Dr. Cooper’s work to enhance and advance the existing simulation models of the early 1990s. In a collaborative effort of anesthesia departments affiliated with Harvard Medical School, he founded the Boston Anesthesia Simulation Center in 1994 – one of the first simulation education centers in the world (it is now called the Center for Medical Simulation). Dr. Cooper has contributed much to training and education as one of the leaders in developing simulation training at the Center for Medical Simulation. As a leader of APSF – through grant support mechanisms he designed – he contributed greatly to the successful advancement of simulation training. This support has led to substantial advances in training around the country and to the central importance of the role of simulation in maintaining proficiency in anesthesiology.

One of the key problems in anesthesia machine safety is the dependence on mechanical functions and adjustments. Dr. Cooper’s development of a microprocessor-driven anesthesia machine in 1978 demonstrated how this type of device could both control anesthesia systems and warn the anesthetist of potentially dangerous conditions: “The premise was that we could create a system that would minimize the possibilities for errors.”1 Decades later, we continue to benefit from this early pioneering work as current technology catches up to Dr. Cooper’s research.

When the American Medical Association founded the National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF), based directly on the work of APSF, Dr. Cooper was appointed to its board, thus ensuring that lessons learned in anesthesia safety would be applied to medicine in general. He ensured this when he was asked to form the NPSF’s research program. He led it for 10 years. It is indicative of Dr. Cooper’s central role in patient safety that Atul Gawande, M.D. wrote2 regarding safety in surgery, “Surgery, like most of medicine, awaits its Jeff Cooper.”

All of medicine begs for practice standards that improve safety. Dr. Cooper and others developed the Harvard Standards for anesthesia monitoring, which provided a much-needed stimulus to the development of ASA’s standards and guidelines.

Such contributions as these were recognized broadly in 2003 when Dr. Cooper received the Joint Commission and National Quality Forum’s John B. Eisenberg Award for Individual Lifetime Achievement and by the engineering community in 2004 with the American College of Clinical Engineering’s Lifetime Acheivement Award.

Dr. Cooper’s tireless landmark efforts on behalf of patient safety in anesthesia in particular, and medicine in general, make this award well-deserved. As the first non-physician recipient of the DSA, he has set the bar very high for future nominees.

Jerry A. Cohen, M.D. is Associate Professor Emeritus of Anesthesiology, Department of Anesthesiology, University of Florida, Gainesville.


1. Cooper JB. An accidental life: patient safety and biomedical engineering. In: Kitz RJ, ed. “This is No Humbug!” Reminiscences of the Department of Anesthesia at the Massachusetts General Hospital: A History. [Boston: Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Anesthesia; 2002]:377-419.

2. Gawande A. Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science. New York: Henry Holt & Co.; 2002.

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