AUA: Then and Now

I first became aware of the AUA in the spring of 1962. I was invited to give a presentation on a research project that I had just completed on the effect of anesthetics on the apneic threshold. The meeting was co-sponsored by Stanford University and the University of California, San Francisco, and held one day at each institution. My sponsor was John Severinghaus, a member of AUA. I was apprehensive because there were several experts in respiratory physiology in the audience, including J. Weldon Bellville and S. H. Ngai. After the presentation, I was asked a number of questions, most of which were answered by Dr. Severinghaus. All of the speakers at that meeting were from one of the two institutions.

My next involvement with the AUA, which at that time stood for the Association of University Anesthetists, was the spring of 1966 when I was elected to membership. I learned that the bylaws of the organization limited membership to 100 persons, so someone could not be elected to membership until an opening became available either from retirement or death. The criteria for membership were full-time academic activity and evidence of significant, scholarly accomplishment. At that time, I was an Assistant Professor of Anesthesia at the University of California, San Francisco. I’m not sure what elements of my research to that point qualified as scholarly.

Over the years, I held every elected position in the organization; treasurer, secretary, vice president, president and representative to the Council of Academic Societies. During those years, there was increasing interest in changing the bylaws so that more well qualified faculty could be elected to membership. Research in anesthesia was blossoming and the need to bring this relevant, exciting, new research into the AUA realm of presentation, dialogue, and discussion became ever more apparent. At an annual meeting while I was president, a debate was held on the pros and cons of eliminating the 100-member restriction. Speaking to the pros, John Kampine gave an elegant presentation citing the many advantages to the association and to the specialty of having unlimited membership numbers. Asked to represent the cons, I had difficulty coming up with any valid reasons to retain the limit of 100, save one. I predicted that with enlargement there would be greater anonymity and less cohesiveness and collegiality of membership, a prediction that to a large extent has come true. With the limited membership, a member was conspicuous by his/her absence. If an absence was anticipated, a written request for an excused absence was required. This requirement was continued after membership enlargement, but was not enforced and later dropped. At the debate, Tom Hornbein and others spoke from the audience, and clearly the overwhelming sentiment was for enlargement of membership and making the AUA a focal point for academic anesthesiology. It clearly was the right thing to do and has allowed the AUA to become the centerpiece for presentation of creative anesthesia research, as well as a site for investigators of similar interests to discuss and debate anesthesia research and teaching.

Enlargement of the organization has made it more challenging for an academic institution to host an annual meeting. Other improvements in the meeting include setting aside time for presentation by any member of new, innovative ideas; having presentations by both the research and teaching components of the organization; and inviting presentations by distinguished scientists at the host institution who are not anesthesiologists. The organization continues to struggle with the issue of which nominees for membership meet the criteria for membership, and why such nominees should or should not be elected to membership. Distinguished anesthesiologists from other countries can also become members, something that was not envisioned in its early days.

In summary, the AUA, now the Association of Academic Anesthesiologists, has become what the title implies…the flagship for all scientifically committed anesthesiologists.


C. Philip Larson, MD
Past President
Professor Emeritus, Anesthesia and Neurosurgery, Stanford University
Professor of Clinical Anesthesiology, UCLA
Former Chairman of Anesthesiology, Stanford