Subspecialty News: The Anesthesia History Association

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February 1, 2014 Volume 78, Number 2
Subspecialty News: The Anesthesia History Association Bradley E. Smith, M.D.

Despite worldwide concern that “interest in the humanities (including the study of history) is fast declining,” the Anesthesia History Association (AHA) is enjoying a resurgence in membership, activities and contributions to the professionalism of anesthesiologists!

Founded in 1982-83 by Drs. Selma Calmes and RodCalverly, the goals of AHA are to promote interest in anesthesia history; to facilitate and encourage preservation of the evidence and artifacts of that history; and to stimulate anesthesia history education. A variety of new initiatives in recent years, along with some renewed active recruitment efforts, have resulted in a surge in new membership in AHA.

Although AHA has always been autonomous, from its earliest days the Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology (WLM) has acted as a “big brother” in encouraging, assisting or even sometimes “partnering” with AHA projects. Due to their parallel interests, it is not surprising that (as is the current case) over the years many members and officers of AHA have also become WLM Trustees.

The “Spring Meeting” of AHA is the focal point for the activities of AHA. Here, the “committee work” for the projects and the council meetings is held. There is also time for both podium and poster presentations of history-related reports. Usually, interesting history-related excursions are shared. In May 2013, AHA enjoyed the hospitality of Hartford, where our hosts Drs. Manisha and Sukumar Desai treated us to visits to Horace Wells’ sites, the Mark Twain home and the Connecticut State Museum.

In 2014, from April 30 through May 3, Douglas R. Bacon, M.D., the Wood Library-Museum Laureate and Professor and Chair of the Department of Anesthesiology at Wayne State University, will host the AHA Spring Meeting at historic Dearborn Inn, Dearborn, Michigan, 12 minutes from the Detroit airport. In addition to the historical reports, features will include the Patrick Sim Memorial Lecture by Sandra Kopp, M.D., of Mayo at Rochester, and an opening lecture by David Wilkinson, M.B., B.S., current president of the World Federation of Societies of Anesthesiologists and Immediate Past Wood Library-Museum Laureate. Tours will include the famous Henry Ford Museum complex and the Detroit Institute of Arts.

In addition, Julia Rosenbloom, M.D., a resident-in-training at Yale, will present a condensation of her prize-winning essay in the C. Ronald Stephen Anesthesia History Contest. Annually, medical students, residents or fellows compete by submission of 3,500-word anesthesia-related essays. The winner receives a $1,000 cash prize and the honor of a highlighted presentation of his or her work. The program (in celebration of Dr. Stephen’s lifelong promotion and love of anesthesia history) is supported by donations of friends, former students or admirers of Dr. Stephen. Several past essays have been published in The Bulletin of Anesthesia History, as will the 2014 prizewinner.

AHA has created a Speaker Bureau on Anesthesia History. Several distinguished personalities offer an extensive list of suggested anesthesia history-related topics, which they can present in the traditional classroom lecture format (usually eligible for CME recognition) or as shorter and less formal “after dinner”-style presentations suitable for either professional or layperson audiences. A description of these speakers, and contact with them, can be accessed through the AHA website at

Every year, an objective committee reviews books, shorter publications and suitable video presentations published during the previous year related to anesthesia history. If the committee members feel the work is sufficiently distinguished, they may award the prestigious David M. Little Prize to the best of these.

The Bulletin of Anesthesia History is currently the only PubMed-recognized, peer-reviewed journal devoted exclusively to the history of anesthesia. An enthusiastic revision, expansion and modernization of The Bulletin is under way under the direction of Editor David Waisel, M.D. The WLM has extended an enabling grant to expedite this “makeover.” Efforts have already resulted in a satisfying surge in qualified manuscript submissions. (Dr. Waisel is looking for qualified volunteer manuscript reviewers … can you help?)

Exciting ideas for many additional initiatives abound. It appears that AHA@AnesHistAssoc became one of the top influences on the social media dialogue during the 2013 ASA annual meeting. We plan additional exploitation of “digital social media” vehicles to contact and interest medical students, resident and fellow physicians, and even the lay public, in our important work. We need equally enthusiastic volunteers to assist in these and additional projects!

Members of the AHA enjoy discounted Spring Meeting and October Annual Dinner fees and receive mail or electronic subscriptions to The Bulletin of Anesthesia History. The easiest way to join is through the Anesthesia History Association website at There, the above activities are described in greater detail and “online sign up” through PayPal is available. If you prefer to submit membership applications in the traditional form, the address is provided there.

To paraphrase George Santayana: “Those who do not study history are condemned to repeat history’s mistakes.” At AHA we say, “Those who do not study anesthesia history are missing a lot of enjoyment and an opportunity to contribute to the celebration of one of America’s greatest gifts to medical practice!”

Bradley E. Smith, M.D. is Emeritus Professor of Anesthesiology, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Tennessee.