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Dr. Richard J. Kitz, former HST co-director and anesthetist, dies at 88

Friday, November 3, 2017

Dr. Richard J. Kitz, former co-director of the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology (HST) program and emeritus anesthetist-in-chief at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), died on September 19 at the age of 88. Dr. Kitz served alongside Dr. Roger Mark as co-director of HST from 1985-1990 in a shared model that was developed following the retirement of Dr. Irving London, HST’s founding director.

Dr. Kitz came to the HST program with a deep interest in biomedical engineering and hired many faculty during his tenure as co-director. Dr. Mark fondly recalls the immediate kinship and bond that he formed with Dr. Kitz around their shared enthusiasm for biomedical education in general and HST’s MEMP PhD program in particular. The warm, positive, and collaborative relationship that formed between Drs. Kitz and Mark extended to the Harvard and MIT Deans with whom they met regularly. These meetings translated into informal annual dinner meetings that continued well beyond the official working capacity of the members. Dr. Kitz will be greatly missed by these colleagues and friends.

Dr. Kitz also had a celebrated career as an anesthetist at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). He led the MGH Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine from 1969 to 1994, shaping it into one of the largest and most respected international clinical, research and training centers for anesthesiology and its associated sciences. At MGH, Dr. Kitz was regarded as an innovative, thoughtful and highly effective administrator, pushing the boundaries of the discipline of anesthesia and understanding the value of integrating technology and expertise from other fields to advance knowledge and improve the quality of care for patients. A beloved colleague, friend and mentor, Dr. Kitz was known for his warmth and loyalty toward the staff and residents, who he always considered part of his extended family.

Dr. Kitz was a strong advocate for patient safety and brought a team of bioengineers into MGH to gather data, identify risk factors, apply mathematical models, and look systemically to improve anesthesia processes and practices. He created an environment in which engineers and clinicians worked hand in hand with a common goal of safer delivery of anesthesia. His team were at the leading edge of a transformational time in anesthesia safety, re-defining the clinical practice nationally in a way that has, no doubt, saved thousands of lives.

Dr. Kitz was the second Henry Isaiah Dorr Professor of Research and Training in Anesthesia at Harvard Medical School (HMS)—the first ever endowed U.S. anesthesiology chair. He also served as principal investigator for both the Harvard Anesthesia Research Center, the Basic Science Research Training in Anesthesiology Program from 1969 to 1993, and directed the Anesthesia Residency Program at MGH from 1969 to 1994. Dr. Kitz was appointed Faculty Dean for Clinical Affairs at HMS in 1994, a position he held until 1999.

Among his many accolades, Dr. Kitz served as a board member of the American Board of Anesthesiology from 1974 to 1986, including one year as its president. He was chairman of the American Board of Medical Specialties’ Committee on the Study of Evaluation Procedures, was elected to Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences (now the National Academy of Medicine) and was the founding editor-in-chief of the Journal of Clinical Anesthesia. In 2000 he received an honorary doctor of science degree from his alma mater, Marquette University, was an honorary fellow in the Faculty of Anaesthetists of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland, and a Fellow of the Royal College of Anaesthetists of England. In 1997, Harvard Medical School established the Richard J. Kitz Professorship of Anesthesia Research in his honor.

Dr. Kitz was born on in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Oct. 25, 1929. After teaching a cadaver lesson for a class of occupational therapists-in-training that included a young lady in a red plaid skirt, he married Jeanne Marie Hogan in 1953. They had a daughter, Anne Marie Kitz, now a theological scholar. He earned his medical degree from Marquette University in 1954, and then served as a surgical intern at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (CUCPS) at the Presbyterian Hospital.  He loved to play baseball growing up in Oshkosh, and he snuck onto the best team in town, the Navy team, by joining the Navy at 16 years old.  Although he was shortly discovered to be under age, he kept his assigned (low) Navy serial number, which gave him the seniority to run a Marine Corps base in Japan as chief medical officer for two years.  He then returned to CUCPS to complete his two-year residency in neurosurgery and anesthesiology in 1960. He served as associate professor of anesthesiology there until 1969, when he came to the MGH and Harvard Medical School – and began the remarkable journey that has left a legacy on the institutions he loved and the discipline he shepherded.