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About the Department of Anesthesiology

Our History

The Department of Anesthesiology at Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, New York, was established in 1960 previously having been a Division of the Department of Surgery under the direction of Dr. E. Joseph Delmonico.

The first Chairman of the department was Dr. Allen B. Dobkin who initiated the policy of all-physician anesthesia and a strong commitment to research which has persisted to this day. During his chairmanship, 1960-1973, much research was done on the pharmacology and biochemistry of new anesthetic agents including enflurane and the first 200 human administrations of isoflurane, as well as extensive investigations of the metabolic and neuroendocrine effects of general anesthesia and their interactions with hypoxia, hypercarbia and blood loss. In 1965 University Hospital moved into its current building and the number of faculty as well as residents, increased. Dr. Edward T. Thomas was Chairman from 1973-1976 followed by Dr. Howard Zauder, 1977-1988, during whose tenure the department continued to strengthen its teaching program and began an ongoing interest in interactive computer teaching. Other areas of special interest included the use of blood and blood products and the use of fiber-optic endoscopy, as well as the development and rapid expansion of the Pain Treatment Service.

From 1989-2005 Dr. Enrico M. Camporesi assumed the Chairmanship of the department and with the addition of faculty reinvigorated the research program with special interest in human physiology, hyperbaric medicine and the pharmacology of spinal narcotics.

From 2006-2011 Dr. Nancy A. Nussmeier was the Chair of the department. Dr. Nussmeier had previously served as the Director of Cardiovascular Anesthesia Research at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston, TX. Her mission was to enhance the Department's academic productivity, with interdisciplinary clinical and laboratory research activity and enhanced opportunities for faculty and resident scholarship.

From 2011-2012 Dr. Colleen O'leary took on the role of Interim Chair, prior to this undertaking Dr. O'leary was a faculty member with the Department of Anesthesiology since 1991 and specialized in Cardiac Anesthesia.

From 2012-2013 Dr. James Foster became chair after leaving his role as Chief Medical Officer with Women and Children's Hospital in Buffalo, NY.

In 2013 Dr. P. Sebastian Thomas was appointed Interim Chair. In 2015 he became the permanent Chair untill he decided to focus his efforts on his Directorship of Pain Management in August 2019.

In August of 2019 Dr. Xiuli Zhang was elected to take on the role of the department's new Interim Chair and on May 15th 2020 Dr. Zhang was selected to be the permanent chair of the department.

The Comprehensive Pain Management Center at SUNY Upstate is one of the largest and most established services of its type in the upstate area. Led by Dr. P. Sebastian Thomas, the chronic pain division and pain management fellowship was established in 1981. Our Chronic Pain Management Clinic sees 6,000 patients per year along with the offering of a very specialized chronic pain services such as neuron ablative procedures, dorsal column stimulator insertions, and morphine pump insertions. Currently there are 2 faculty members that work for the Pain Treatment Center besides the Director: Dr. Angela Mahajan and Dr. Vandana Sharma. The fellowship offers 6 ACGME approved positions a year. It is one of the most competitive programs in the Northeast. For more information on the Pain Management Fellowship visit our Comprehensive Pain Management Center.

In 1995 Cardiac Anesthesia services were also instituted. Dr. Muhammad Sarwar, Director for Cardiac Anesthesia Services and Dr. Syed Ali are full-time faculty who specialize in this category. We offer integrated echocardiography services.

Since 1997 Pediatric Services is under the leadership of Dr. Bettina Smallman. The department has been expanded to include 4 full-time faculty members with sub-specialization in pediatric anesthesia. They are: Dr. Rahila Bilal, Dr. Jadwiga Bednarczyk, Dr. Elizabeth Demers-LavelleDr. Joseph Resti, and Dr. Chiagozie Fawole A full range of anesthesia services (including acute post-operative pain service) is offered with an emphasis on both safety and comfort for young patients undergoing surgery and other procedures. Golisano Children's hospital opened in September of 2009 with 71 spacious rooms, each with a private bath and pullout bed for family sleepovers. It has become the major referral center for pediatric services in Central New York.

In 1996 Neuroanesthesiology went under the direction of division chief Dr. Reza Gorji who has 25 years of full time neuroanesthesia experience. The division assistant director, Dr. Fenghua Li, joined the department in 2007 and also provides care to neurosurgical patients on a full time basis. The department provides anesthesia services in their state-of-the art operating rooms as well as the recently opened Upstate Cancer Center.

Additional Procedural Changes:

Pretesting of patients for preparedness for anesthesia has evolved to comprise the Pre-admission Clinic, staffed daily by an anesthesiology resident, a physician assistant, several nurses and clerical staff under the direction of Dr. Robert Calimlim

In answer to increasing patient volumes and the quest for improved efficiency, we have implemented the concept of an Anesthesia OR Officer of the Day to provide continuity of effort in coordinating the efficient management of the main operating rooms and the pediatric operating rooms. The trend we have observed is towards more complex patients who arrive with reduced preparation opportunities and a need for discharge to high-intensity care units.

Another important addition in the past few years has been an active and well-organized Acute Pain Service. This is comprised of a team including a pain fellow and an anesthesia resident under the direction of Dr. P. Sebastian Thomas. The service comprises an active post-operative PCA epidural, regional blocks and catheter and intrathecal service as well as treatment of patients with chronic pain and acute or chronic pain issues. The service is also an interventional pain service with several different types of blocks being placed. It also provides epidural blood patches for patients with post dural puncture headaches.

Educational Highlights

In February of 2005, Dr. Carlos J. Lopez III was named the new Residency Program Director. Under Dr.'s Lopez's direction, the residency education program has experienced a new and innovative learning environment that fosters clinical and didactic teaching.

Airway Management

A Difficult Airway Management Hands-On Training with mannequin and intubation workshops under the direction of Dr. Wendy Howard. This also includes a one-month airway rotation for all senior residents. This rotation allows the resident to spend a month focused on airway management and gain skills through repetition.

Regional Anesthesia

The department has recently expanded the regional anesthesia service with the addition of sub-speciality trained anesthesiologists. A one-month intensive regional resident rotation has been developed that assigns the regional resident to cases appropriate for application of regional block techniques on a daily basis. This allows a continuum of clinical exposure that allows the resident to perfect his peripheral regional anesthetic techniques using ultrasound and nerve stimulation modalities.

Dissection Course

Every year, the residents participate in a cadaver dissection course. The brachial plexus is dissected in a cadaver, as well as crucial anatomy of central line insertion in the neck, airway anatomy with special laryngeal mask adaption, and the lumbar plexus. Additional areas of key interest to anesthesiologists such as common regional anesthesia procedures and blocks are performed.

Board Review Course

Every spring, senior residents are sent to one of the top board review courses in the country. All expenses for this course are paid for by the department.

Outside Rotations

All PGY-3 residents are sent to the Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston, MA. This one-month rotation gives residents their first experience in obstetric anesthesia. The department owns an apartment close to the hospital and covers travel expenses to and from Boston. Residents also rotate to local hospitals including the VA Hospital, St. Joseph's Hospital, and Crouse Hospital for additional OB, cardiac, vascular and additional general anesthesia training. Our program also incorporates a human patient simulator, which enables residents to develop and enhance clinical skills through participation in exercises of controlled scenarios based on reconstructed case reports and situations.

Increased Research Opportunities

The Department is experiencing a revitalization of its research efforts, both in the laboratory and in the clinical arena. Faculty members are involved in ongoing basic research projects that include hyperbaric oxygen treatment of traumatic brain injury, prevention of neurologic injury after cardiopulmonary bypass with second-generation perflurocarbon, and new methods to prolong allograft survival after organ transplantation.

Clinical research projects include investigation of novel drugs to minimize blood loss during and after cardiac surgery. Other clinical studies involve administration of dexmedetomidine to prevent postoperative delirium, administration of peripheral opiate antagonists to prevent postoperative ileus, and clinical validation of new devices that measure blood pressure or cardiac output. The residents and medical students at Upstate Medical University have opportunities to participate in clinical research. We are proud of the fact that some currently smaller-scale clinical research projects were initiated by these trainees.