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January 24, 2002

Critical care medicine dept. established

Pitt's School of Medicine has established the nation's first Department of Critical Care Medicine (CCM) at a medical school.

The department will focus on training intensivists, physicians who specialize in the management of critically ill patients requiring care in an intensive care unit (ICU).

"Recent studies have shown that critically ill patients substantially benefit from being treated by intensivists, reinforcing the fact that there is a great need for critical care specialists," said Arthur S. Levine, senior vice chancellor, Health Sciences, and dean of the School of Medicine.

Pitt's medical school is one of the only medical schools in the U.S. to incorporate critical care medicine as an integral part of an internal medicine clerkship. Currently, with more than $5 million per year in research funding, the CCM program at Pitt has more external funding than any similar program in the country.

The new department's research agenda ranges from genetic studies of patients with sepsis, a life-threatening condition that affects about 750,000 Americans per year, to studies of the molecular mechanisms responsible for neurological impairment following pediatric head trauma, to the development of new drugs to treat serious illnesses, such as acute respiratory distress syndrome.

"All of the pieces were in place for the University of Pittsburgh to take the lead in this area; forming an independent department of critical care medicine was the next logical step," said Mitchell P. Fink, Watson Professor of Surgery, Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine and the founding chair of the CCM department. "The creation of the department will help us build on an already strong foundation of research and facilities."

The department is expected to address the widely reported need for CCM specialists caused by the nation's aging population. A study led by Pitt researcher Derek Angus, published in the Dec. 6, 2000, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), predicts that the demand for care will outpace the supply of intensivists by the year 2010. There also is evidence that intensivists decrease mortality rates and lower costs.

Prior to the development of the CCM department, CCM was a division of the Department of Anesthesiology. Many resources in the anesthesiology department, such as the Peter Winter Patient Simulation Center, will be shared between the two departments.

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