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SUNY Downstate Medical Center

Department of Anesthesiology

History of Anesthesiology in Brooklyn

The history of Anesthesiology in Brooklyn goes back to the earliest days of the Twentieth Century. In 1905, Dr. Adolph Erdmann was appointed the hospital anesthetist at the Long Island College Hospital (LICH), which at that time granted medical degrees.  In 1930, the Long Island College of Medicine was spun off from the Hospital under separate governance; in 1950, the Medical School merged with the State University of New York, and became SUNY Downstate  College of Medicine.

On October 6, 1905 Dr. Erdmann convened the first meeting of the Long Island Society of Anesthetists in the Polhemus Building of LICH, which nearly 90 years later would become the home of the Department of Anesthesiology.  For an annual fee of $1.00, hospital anesthetists and other qualified physicians with special interest in the field of anesthesia could join the Society, which was to hold monthly scientific sessions. The London (U.K.) Society of Anesthetists was founded in 1893; all evidence suggests that the Long Island Society was the second organized anesthesiology society in the world.

Wishing to expand the scope of the Society, in 1911 the members voted to rename their group the New York Society of Anesthetists. In 1912, members of the New York Society approached the American Medical Association with plans to develop a national society; for the first but not the last time, these efforts were rebuffed.

In 1934, the Society’s Committee on Certification established plans to conduct examinations that would lead to certification as a “Fellow in Anesthesiology”, which represented the first step in obtaining recognition as a medical specialty. In 1938, these efforts came to fruition with the formation of an American Board of Anesthesiology, affiliated with the American Board of Surgery; in 1941 the ABA separated and became an independent entity. On April 12, 1945, the Society was officially renamed the American Society of Anesthesiologists; thus, in a very real sense, SUNY Downstate was the progenitor of our national society.

There have been four Chairmen of the SUNY Downstate College of Medicine Department of Anesthesiology.  The academic Department was created by Merel Harmel, who fashioned a strong, successful Department, eventually leaving in 1968 to become Chairman at the University of Chicago. Dr. Benton King succeeded Dr. Harmel, also traveling from Upstate New York to guide the Department through further growth and change.

In 1979, Dr. James E. Cottrell, perhaps the most distinguished neuroanesthesiologist of our generation, was recruited from New York University to become Professor and Chairman. An outstanding clinician, researcher, teacher, and leader, he has had an enormous influence on the practice of neuroanesthesiology, and  an equally important role in organized anesthesiology, serving in multiple leadership roles at the state, national, and international level, including President of the ASA.  He has had an enormous influence on all who have worked and trained with him, many of his graduates themselves having gone on to leadership roles in Anesthesiology.

In April 2018, Dr. David Wlody, former Chair at Long Island College Hospital and Residency Program Director, assumed the role of Chair of the SUNY Downstate College of Medicine. In collaboration with Dr. Audree Bendo, Chair at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, we hope to continue the outstanding leadership that Dr. Cottrell has demonstrated throughout his 39 year tenure at Downstate.

Since 1979, our program has grown from 13 to 75 residents. The strength of our training program is recognized throughout our specialty, and our graduates continue to obtain prestigious fellowship positions, as well as both academic and private practice jobs .  Our graduates have established themselves throughout the world as clinicians, teachers, and leaders.  Our 1200 plus graduates have had an enormous on our specialty, and influence that can only be expected to grow.

Audree A. Bendo, M.D
Distinguished Professor and Executive Vice Chair
Department of Anesthesiology
SUNY Downstate Medical Center