Beloved former chair of UF Anesthesiology, Jerome H. Modell, MD, D.Sc. (Hon.), passes away

Jerome H. Modell
Jerome H. Modell, M.D., D.Sc. (Hon.)

Jerome H. Modell, M.D., D.Sc. (Hon.), whose remarkable influence as a physician, teacher, researcher, administrator and generous philanthropist has left an indelible mark on our academic health center as well as throughout the world, passed away Tuesday, April 14, 2020, after a brief hospitalization for a chronic illness. He was 87.

Born in Minnesota, Dr. Modell attended college and medical school at the University of Minnesota before serving in the U.S. Navy from 1957 to 1963 and concluding his military service as chief of anesthesiology at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Pensacola, Florida. At the University of Miami Department of Anesthesiology from 1963 to 1969, Dr. Modell developed his research interests caring for drowning victims and became the international expert in this field with publication of The Pathophysiology and Treatment of Drowning and Near-Drowning in 1971.

Doctors Modell and Graves getting married
Dr. Jerry Modell and Dr. Shirley Graves are married in 1977.

Dr. Modell served the University of Florida College of Medicine for more than 43 years before his retirement. In 1969, he was named the second chair of the department of anesthesiology, a position he held for 23 years. Under his leadership, the department became recognized as one of the nation’s largest and most prestigious anesthesiology programs in the world. In his administrative roles with the UF College of Medicine, he served as special assistant to the dean for professional support services, senior associate dean for clinical affairs, executive associate dean and interim dean. Dr. Modell also served for five years as associate vice president for UF Health Science Center affiliations, during which he helped establish academic and clinical connections with major health care facilities statewide before retiring from administrative duties in 2000.

Retirement was just a launching pad for Dr. Modell, as he remained active at UF, volunteering three to four days a week to care for patients and teach students in the colleges of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine. He was named professor emeritus of anesthesiology and courtesy professor of large animal clinical sciences, and oversaw the Florida Board of Regents’ UF Self Insurance Program. His full retirement from UF came on Dec. 31, 2012.

Dr. Modell’s impact reached much farther than UF, as he was known worldwide for his discoveries related to the after-effects of near-drowning and the treatment of near-drowning victims. He and his colleagues also conducted the original research in demonstrating that mammals could breathe special oxygenated liquids and survive. He was one of the first in the country recognized as an intensivist, a physician specially trained in critical care. He and his colleagues made numerous contributions to developing unique equipment in the field of intensive pulmonary support. In 1975, Dr. Modell participated in medical exchange trips to the People’s Republic of China during rapprochement.

Doctor Modell at the 1978 Graduation
Dr. Haven M. Perkins (left), a founding member of the department, and Dr. Jerry Modell (right), at the Department of Anesthesiology’s 1978 graduation.

During his career, Dr. Modell received several awards, including the Distinguished Service Award from the Florida Society of Anesthesiologists (2006) and faculty membership in Alpha Omega Alpha. He was awarded the UF President’s Medallion for Outstanding Service (2000), the Medal of Honor of Maatschappij tot Redding van Drenkelingen (The Society to Rescue People from Drowning) in 2002 and an honorary doctorate of science degree from the University of Florida in 2004, and he delivered the E.A. Rovenstine Memorial Lecture in 2004. The UF Department of Anesthesiology established an endowed professorship in his name.

While anesthesiology chair, more than 400 residents and fellows graduated from the program; 15 went on to become chairs of medical school departments and one is a dean, CEO and senior vice president at the University of Utah. Dr. Modell always encouraged scientific writing by his department members, who contributed to more than 2,700 papers, abstracts and book chapters during his tenure. He himself published prolifically in the peer-reviewed literature over seven decades from 1957 to 2011.

In the early 2000s, Dr. Modell was honored by two UF engineering centers for his help in laying the foundation to transform UF into a major center for surface science research — studies of how atoms and molecules at a surface act and react when they come in contact with each other. He recognized early on that the field would be of significance to biomedical research. He also assembled the team of physicians, engineers and computer scientists who developed and obtained a patent on the Human Patient Simulator at UF.

At the invitation of the Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology, a foundation of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, Dr. Modell wrote an autobiography, published in 2000 by the ASA in the fourth volume of “Careers in Anesthesiology,” a series that is part of the library’s effort to preserve anesthesiology history.

Doctors Graves and Modell
Dr. Shirley Graves and Dr. Jerry Modell.

Dr. Modell was a highly appreciated philanthropic partner to the university. He and his wife, Dr. Shirley Graves, M.D., who also was a longtime faculty member in the department of anesthesiology and established the division of pediatric anesthesiology, have been generous supporters of a number of initiatives and have helped facilitate private gifts on behalf of others. They were instrumental in the Gravenstein Scholars program fundraising effort, the T.W. Andersen and Haven M. Perkins Educational Endowment and many other funds within the College of Medicine. The Jerome H. Modell Professorship currently is held by Dr. Nik Gravenstein, and recently, Dr. Modell’s longtime collaborator and colleague, Dinesh Shah, Ph.D., established the Jerome H. Modell, M.D.–Dinesh O. Shah, Ph.D. Annual Lecture in Anesthesiology by creating the endowed lectureship in Dr. Modell’s honor.

The UF College of Medicine family, especially the faculty and staff in the department of anesthesiology, extend our deepest condolences to Dr. Graves, the couple’s children, Chuck, Jack and Julie, and their family and friends. We will be forever grateful to Dr. Modell for his numerous contributions to our institution, the field of anesthesiology and patient care in general. In the eloquent words of Dr. Nik Gravenstein, the College of Medicine is visibly leaning a bit after losing one of its pillars today.

Founders of UF Anesthesiology
(from left) Dr. J.S. Gravenstein, the Department of Anesthesiology’s first chair; Dr. Haven M. Perkins, a founding member of the department; Dr. T.W. Anderson, for whom our teaching award is named; and Dr. Jerome H. Modell, the Department of Anesthesiology’s second chair and a profound influence on its direction.
Inaugural Modell-Shah Lecture 2018
(from left): Dr. Dinesh Shah, one of the first faculty hired by Dr. Modell; Dr. Guy Weinberg, the inaugural speaker at the Shah—Modell Annual Lecture; Dr. Jerry Modell; and Dr. Timothy Morey, the current chair of the Department of Anesthesiology.