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Donald Warren Benson

Donald Warren Benson


Benson, a chief of anesthesiology at Johns Hopkins, was born in Jamestown, New York. He attended North Park Junior College, the University of Illinois, and the University of Notre Dame before serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. After the war, he attended the University of Chicago and earned his M.D. in 1950. Following his internship in Buffalo, New York at Millard Fillmore Hospital, and his residency in anesthesiology at the University of Chicago Clinics, Benson remained at the University of Chicago as a faculty member in anesthesiology and as a graduate student in pharmacology.

In 1956, Benson was recruited to be an associate professor of anesthesiology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and anesthesiologist-in-charge at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, a year before completing his Ph.D. in pharmacology. One of Benson’s major accomplishments was to establish a full-fledged residency program in anesthesiology.

Benson did much to introduce the use of ventilators into surgery and clinical care. While at Chicago, he had become familiar with long-term respirators and had worked with a colleague to develop a unique positive-pressure ventilator. Benson was able to bring some of these new ventilators with him to Johns Hopkins and found use for them in heart operations and other extensive surgery.

Perhaps his most important contribution to Johns Hopkins was his role in the development of a surgical intensive care unit. He began his drive for an intensive care unit in the early 1960s, but it was almost a decade before it became a reality.

By the late 1960s, anesthesiology at Johns Hopkins, under Benson’s leadership, had matured and several subspecialties had evolved. In recognition of his many contributions to the field, he was elected director of the American Board of Anesthesia.

In 1974, Benson left Johns Hopkins to become professor and chairman of the anesthesiology department at the University of Chicago, where he remained until his death.

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