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Member Spotlight: Dr. Robert Gaiser on Commitment, Community, and the Job He Loves

Robert Gaiser, MD, FASA, always wanted to be a doctor - just ask his mom.  In this Member Spotlight, Dr. Gaiser shares how his laser focus on a medical career and anesthesiology as a specialty hasn't stopped him from engaging with his community on a wider scale, from resident life to fundraising runs to an occasional gig as Santa Claus.

What first inspired you to pursue a career in medicine, and choose anesthesia as a specialty? How does the reality compare to the expectations you had as a medical student?

I always wanted to be a doctor, as my mother will tell you. When applying to medical school, I will never forget the question was posed to me as an essay to be completed in one's own handwriting. I was fortunate to be accepted to Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and that essay appeared again with my diploma upon graduation. It meant so much to pause and reflect on my thoughts of a career in medicine both before and after medical school.

My initial plan was a career in Pediatrics; after a rotation in Anesthesiology with the course director Sandra Curry, M.D., and the resident, Janice Ford, M.D., I knew I had found my specialty. I have been incredibly fortunate in my career. During my residency, my first two teachers were Drs. Gregory Crosby and Michelle Szabo. They taught me to love the specialty and the honor to take care of patients during surgery.

On my obstetric rotation, I met Dr. Sanjay Datta who encouraged me to pursue a fellowship in Obstetric Anesthesiology. My fellowship at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania was the best and my two mentors to whom I will be forever indebted, Drs. Brett Gutsche and Theodore Cheek, inspired me to question everything and to love to teach.

My choice of specialty did not match my expectations; it exceeded. I have loved Anesthesiology since my first day and still love doing and teaching it.

As past president of the Society for Obstetric Anesthesia and Perinatology (SOAP), you’ve helped “steer the ship” for obstetric anesthesia. In your view, what’s the role of the subspecialty society and how do you see that evolving over time?

It was a true honor to be elected by my colleagues to help lead the specialty. It was a productive time and I am humbled that many of my changes still exist today. The role of the subspecialty within Anesthesiology is to help ensure that colleagues performing obstetric anesthesia have the knowledge to safely perform their responsibilities and to represent obstetric anesthesia to colleagues in other specialties, specifically Obstetrics. The subspecialty continues to evolve as each leader introduces changes that help to strengthen obstetric anesthesiology and ensure its place within Anesthesiology and the general medical community.

You served as residency program director at the University of Pennsylvania for many years and currently at Yale University. Beyond the obvious clinical training, how can residency programs best equip new graduates to succeed in a fast-changing health care landscape? What do you think are the biggest challenges recent graduates will face in the years ahead?

The role of Program Director is simply the best. I had the opportunity to share my viewpoint in an editorial appropriately titled, "Program Director: The Job You Love to Admit That You Hate or Hate to Admit That You Love." I was clearly in the hate-to-admit-you-love group. It is challenging to be responsible for the education of the residents. The challenges are more outweighed by the joys.

As program director, you are the first to congratulate a resident on a pregnancy or an upcoming nuptial and also the first to express sorrow on a death or illness. The most important part of the job is to make sure the residents graduate loving anesthesiology as much as I do. If you love the specialty, you continue to learn as well as contribute by advocating for the specialty and participating in the ASA.

I still hear from many of my former residents with the best part of the annual meeting of the ASA walking in the hallway and continuously bumping into previous residents and hearing of their many successes. Of the core anesthesia programs, I have trained 10% of the PDs in the programs, a fact that I am particularly proud.

We hear you once made a surprise visit to Penn dressed as Santa Claus! How important is it to inject a little levity and personality into a stressful program? How do encourage residents to blow off steam?

This visit was four years ago. I feel that a program director must also inspire in the residents a commitment to the community. I was the Santa at Penn for 5 years and had participated in caroling in the hospital for five years before that. I always made a special greeting to anyone working and thanking them for helping with holidays. This was one small way to give back to the community.

Since the ASA began the Run for the Warriors, I have organized a team, first at Penn, then at the University of Kentucky, and now at Yale. Each year we raised about $1000 for this important cause and had alot of fun running together.

At the University of Kentucky, I would join the residents in the polar plunge. It was always fun to be the oldest in jumping into the freezing pool to raise funds for Special Olympics. I am not sure what other causes will be adopted at Yale and will have to let the pandemic settle before deciding.

Is there anything we haven’t asked you that you wish we had?

Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts. I am eternally grateful to my mentors and to my trainees for giving me such a great career. I am also humbled by my patients who allow me to care for them.

I also encourage residents and colleagues to become involved in the ASA and subspecialty organizations. This involvement gives you the opportunity to meet incredible people and to learn from them. As an anesthesiologist, I understand it is important to care for the patient and also important to care for yourself. Get involved with the ASA and the community in which you live.

Dr. Gaiser is Core Program Director at Yale University School of Medicine. He previously served as Professor and Chair in the Department of Anesthesiology in the College of Medicine at the University of Kentucky. Additionally, he is a Director for the American Board of Anesthesiology and a Board Member for the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. Dr. Gaiser is a past president for the Society of Obstetric Anesthesia and Perinatology.


ASA Community Blog is published as a benefit for ASA members. The views expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributing writers only and do not necessarily represent the opinions of ASA.


Jan 07, 2021 12:59 PM

Congrats Robert !  Well deserved. You probably don’t remember me but we used to get each other’s mail at the Brigham when you were an OB fellow. It used to crack up Sanjay all the time. You  were a great fellow, teacher, mentor to me and I’ve followed your career since that time. 
Thank you for your devotion to our specialty and wish you continued success. 

John F Geiser, MD
Dallas, TX