Alumni Profile: Thomas P. Bleck, MD ’77

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Name: Thomas P. Bleck, MD, MCCM, FCCM

Class Year: MD ’77

Current Employer and Position: Director of Clinical Neurophysiology and Professor of Neurosurgery, Internal Medicine and Anesthesiology at Rush University Medical Center.

Describe your Rush experience:

I started medical school at Rush in August 1973. We were an unusually diverse group for that point in time; nearly one-third women, with more African-American and Hispanic class members than one saw in medical schools of that era.

After medical school, I stayed at Rush for my residencies in internal medicine and neurology and a fellowship in epilepsy. During my neurology residency and fellowship, I was also working part-time as an attending physician in the medical intensive care unit. We had no critical care training program in those days. I became an assistant professor in 1983, focusing on the management of intractable epilepsy. However, I never quite lost the critical care bug. In 1984 Rush attracted a new chief of medicine, Roger Bone, who had already earned international fame in critical care medicine. I think he was initially suspicious about me — a neurologist who hung out in his medical intensive care unit — but we got to know each other’s interests quickly. One day he called me into his office and told me that, by constitution, I was an intensivist, and I should just admit this to myself and get on with my life. I decided to take his advice, but developing neurocritical care required that I move to an institution that was at the cutting (some might say bleeding) edge of neurotrauma and neurovascular care. So in 1990, I moved to the University of Virginia to open the fourth dedicated neuroscience care unit in the country.  

How did your Rush education prepare you for your career in medicine?

I met several faculty members who shaped my subsequent career. Some of my models as a physician who were most central to my development include Stu Levin, Alan Harris; Ed Lewis, who taught me to examine the physiology underlying the practice of medicine; Harold Klawans, Donna Bergen and Jack Fox, who helped me to become a neurologist; and Frank Morrell, who taught me to view medicine through the eyes of an investigator as well as a clinician.

What work are you currently involved in and what was your path to getting there?

I came back to Rush in 2009 to be the associate chief medical officer for critical care; this occupied the following six years of my career. I am still involved in several projects, including the development of our program in extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (for which Rush was recently named a center of excellence) and several initiatives in patient safety. Clinically I am active in the neuroscience intensive care unit as an attending physician and mentor, as well as in the section of epilepsy. Electroencephalographic monitoring for critically ill patients unites these two areas and is a rapidly growing field throughout the world. I am also on the executive committee and the data and safety monitoring boards of several multicenter clinical trials. I still get to teach occasionally in the preclinical years of the medical school, and I am involved in the education of advanced practice nurses and physician’s assistants.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

I was privileged to help establish the Neurocritical Care Society, or NCS, and to be elected its founding president. I remain very active in the NCS, as well as in the Society of Critical Care Medicine and several other international organizations.

What makes you most proud about your affiliation to Rush?

Rush has given me the privilege of working with and learning from some of the country’s most outstanding and caring clinicians. I now get to help guide the career development of some brilliant students and postgraduate trainees.

What has inspired you to give back to Rush?

I’ve received so much from the people who work and teach here that there was never any question about trying to repay the personal and professional debts I accrued (but not financial ones … tuition was $400 per quarter back then!).  

Why do you think it’s important for alumni to stay connected to Rush? How have you stayed connected?

In addition to maintaining personal connections from one’s medical school days, alumni can provide inspiration and opportunities for current Rush students. The alumni also contribute tremendous financial support, which helps the school attract a broad range of students through scholarship support who could not attend Rush without such generosity. I had the privilege of serving on the alumni association executive committee for four years and got to see the many other ways in which the alumni contribute — primarily though volunteering their time and effort.

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