History of Critical Care Medicine

Caring for critically ill and injured children was a core strength of both The Children’s Hospital and Colorado General Hospital—now University of Colorado Hospital—from their beginnings in the early 20th Century. At Children’s, pediatric intensive care services were directed by James Gilman, MD, of the Anesthesiology Department; at University, by Pulmonology.

Pediatric critical care, however, did not emerge as a distinct specialty in the United States until the early 1980s. Citing the essential differences between intensive care requirements for children and adults, The Society of Critical Care Medicine recognized it as a separate area of focus in 1981; the American Academy of Pediatrics created it as a new section in 1984.

Frederick Battaglia, MD, chair of the Department of Pediatrics (1974–1988), clearly understood the need for such specialization. As a pioneering researcher and neonatologist, he knew how advances in pediatric pulmonary medicine, anesthesiology, cardiology, emergency medicine, surgery, and education were converging to improve outcomes for critically ill children. As chair of a program linking the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Colorado General Hospital, The Children’s Hospital, and Denver General Hospital, he saw an opportunity for more cohesive clinical care, critical care research, and training.

Among the Colorado colleagues with whom Battaglia shared his ideas was Kurt Stenmark, MD, a young faculty member who had recently completed his fellowship in pulmonary disease at the University of Colorado. In 1987, with the prospects of a formal affiliation between the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and The Children’s Hospital brightening, Battaglia created a Section of Critical Care Medicine to bridge the programs and the two hospitals’ pediatric intensive care units. Stenmark was named Section Head.

Now, the Section of Critical Care Medicine includes more than 40 individuals—medical doctors, advanced practice professionals, and investigators—performing internationally regarded research and producing clinical outcomes among the top pediatric hospitals in the nation. The fellowship program has trained more than 60 critical care subspecialists.

Stenmark notes, “The PICU is the hub of interaction in a large hospital. It provides the essential infrastructure necessary for all medical and surgical subspecialists to deliver optimal care to their sickest patients. We constantly self-evaluate to make this unit and the care it provides even better.”

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