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Historical Highlights: Anesthesia at HSS

Nigel Sharrock, MB, ChB, and HSS Anesthesiology Staff (1989). (Photo by Brad Hess, professional photographer)

Did you know that physicians voted anesthesia as one of the greatest medical advances of the past 150 years?

In 2007, the British Journal of Medicine surveyed physicians’ opinions on the greatest medical advances of the past 150 years. The development of anesthesia ranked third, only behind sanitation development and vaccines.

Today, HSS practices some of the most advanced anesthetic techniques in the world. Read on to learn 10 historical highlights about the Department of Anesthesiology, Critical Care & Pain Management at HSS.1

  1. In the very early years of the Hospital for the Ruptured and Crippled (HSS’s previous name), anesthetics were administered very sparingly.2

Before anesthesiology was a medical specialization, anesthesia was often administered by junior assistants or nurses.

  1. Thomas Linwood Bennett, MD3 was appointed the first anesthetist and instructor in anesthesia at the hospital in 1897, and introduced his invention of the Bennett inhaler in 1899.4

Dr. Bennett is considered to be the first American physician to limit his practice solely to the practice of anesthesia.5 He invented an inhaler that was a precursor to many future anesthetic inhalers.

  1. In 1939, Charles L. Burstein, MD, was appointed to the position of Supervisor of Anesthesia.6

Dr. Burstein’s arrival ushered in a new era in anesthesia care at the Hospital for Special Surgery. Some of Dr. Burstein’s earliest work set the foundation for research at HSS that would be performed 50 years later.7,8

  1. In 1944, Dr. Burstein received the Bronze Star for Meritorious Service during World War II before returning to HSS and transforming the Department of Anesthesia.

Upon his arrival at HSS in 1939, five articles were published by the anesthesia service. By 1945, 35 of the 154 reports published by staff at HSS were written by anesthesiologists. The hospital had been renamed Hospital for Special Surgery in 1940; the Department of Anesthesia was founded in 1944.

  1. In 1965, Anita Haack Goulet, MD, became the first woman in the department to be a fully trained, board-certified anesthesiologist.

Dr. Goulet was appointed to the staff at HSS in 1965. Upon her death in 2007, a scholarship was endowed in her name at New York University for those who “possess a deep and abiding commitment to the role of women in the medical profession.”

  1. In 1972, John Lawrence Fox, MD, was promoted to Director of the Department of Anesthesia.

Dr. Fox had served as captain in the 236-305 General Medical Corps of the U.S. Army during World War II in the European Theatre. During his first year as Director, approximately 2,900 operations were performed at HSS, with a five-bed recovery room staffed by the Department of Anesthesia.

  1. In 1986, Nigel Sharrock, MB, ChB, was appointed Director and Anesthesiologist-in-Chief. Dr. Sharrock, now Anesthesiologist-in-Chief Emeritus, still practices at HSS today and is recognized as the founder of the modern regional anesthesiology practice at HSS.

Dr. Sharrock found that regional anesthesia significantly improved outcomes while decreasing morbidity and mortality, including substantially reducing blood loss and thromboembolic complications.9 In 1986, regional anesthesia was used for less than 15% of all surgical procedures at HSS. By 2010, that proportion increased to 85%.

  1. In 1987, Richard King, MB, ChB, joined HSS as the first fellow in regional anesthesia.

Fellowship training in regional anesthesia, which at the time was quite rare, became more popular over the next few decades. Dr. King joined the attending staff following his fellowship and is still on staff today. As of this writing, the department has trained over 160 Fellows.

  1. In 1995, Thomas J. J. Blanck, MD, PhD, was appointed director and chair of the Anesthesia Department.

While he was director, Dr. Blanck implemented the department’s first regional anesthesia symposium in 1997, which continued through 2015. He also shifted the focus of anesthesia research toward basic science and formed East River Medical Anesthesiologists (ERMA), a group financial model for the anesthesiologists at HSS.

  1. After Dr. Blanck’s departure, Gregory Liguori, MD, was appointed Director and Anesthesiologist-in-Chief in June 2002.

Over the next decade, Dr. Liguori recruited specialists to HSS, refocused the department’s research efforts on clinical initiatives, and expanded the graduate medical education program in anesthesiology at HSS. Today, the department trains residents from Weill Cornell Medicine, the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, The University of San Francisco’s School of Medicine and The Georgetown School of Medicine. In 2019, the department conducted over 51,000 anesthetic cases. Dr. Liguori is still Director and Anesthesiologist-in-Chief today, and continues to promote and inspire leadership, innovation, research, and education.



  1. Liguori GA, Hargett MJ. Chapter 15: Anesthesiology (1897-2012). In: Levine DB, Anatomy of a Hospital: Hospital for Special Surgery: New York: Print Matters, Inc.; 2013:313-338.
  2. Gibney VP. Anesthetics at the Hospital for Ruptured and Crippled. Med Rec. 1908:266.
  3. Sanders J. Bennett’s Inhaler. Waring Historical Library Artifact Collection. Available at: http:/ /waring.library.musc.edu.
  4. Bennett TL. New anesthetic apparatus. Med J: Weekly J Med Surg. 1900;57:524-526.
  5. Liguori EC, Hargett MJ, Liguori, GA. Thomas Linwood Bennett, MD: One of New York City’s First Prominent Physician Anesthetists. Anesth Analg. 2013 Oct;117(4):1003-9. doi: 10.1213/ANE.0b013e3182a00875.
  6. Keeney LG, Hargett MJ, Liguori GA. Charles Burstein MD: First Director of Anesthesiology, Hospital for Special Surgery. Anesth Hist. 2018 Jul;4(3): 171-176.
  7. CoTui CL, Burstein CL, Ruggiero WF. Total spinal block: a preliminary report. Anesthesiology. 1940;1:280-291.
  8. Burstein CL. Postural blood pressure changes during spinal anesthesia: a preliminary experimental report. Anesth Analg. 1939:18:132-139.
  9. Sharrock NE, Cazan MG, Hargett MJ, Williams-Russo P, Wilson PD Jr. Changes in mortality after total hip and knee arthroplasty over a ten-year period. Anesth Analg. 1995;80:242-248.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.