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MITCHELL P. FINK, M.D., 1948-2015

Dr. Mitchell P. Fink MD, one of the most creative and influential surgeon-scientists in the field of critical care, died November 17, 2015 at the age of 66, after a short battle with an aggressive sarcoma. At the time of his passing, Mitch was Professor of Surgery and Anesthesiology and Vice Chair of Critical Care in the Department of Surgery at the University of California, Los Angeles. He was a member of the American Surgical Association for 20 years.

Mitch was a native of San Francisco, the son and only child of Walt and Betty Fink. He graduated from the University of California Davis in 1970 and subsequently received a Master’s in Chemistry from UC Irvine followed by an M.D. degree from Washington University St. Louis in 1976. Following general surgery residency training at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda MD, he was appointed to the faculty at the Naval Medical Center where he directed the surgical research branch of the Combat Casualty Care Program Center and turned the focus of his scientific investigations to understanding sepsis, shock, and trauma. Starting in 1984, he joined the University of Massachusetts where he rapidly rose to the academic rank of Professor, balancing clinical activities as a surgical intensivist while making important research advances in the area of gut-derived sepsis during shock using both experimental animals and reductionist models of GI mucosal and cellular injury. He was recruited to Harvard Medical School as director of trauma and surgical critical care at Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital, where he was appointed the Johnson & Johnson Professor of Surgery and Surgeon-in-Chief at the newly merged Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. In 1999, he became the inaugural chair of the first Department of Critical Care Medicine in the nation at the University of Pittsburgh. In 2007, Mitch briefly left academia to pursue ventures in the private sector where he founded several companies based on discoveries in his and his collaborators’ laboratories that led to 16 patents. In 2009, he joined the faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles.

A prolific author, Mitch contributed over 350 original articles to the surgical and scientific literature, in addition to numerous chapters, monographs and other works. He was an editor of multiple editions of the seminal Textbook of Critical Care Medicine and served on the editorial boards of over a dozen journals. As an internationally distinguished scholar, he served on numerous scientific review committees and expert panels, including ad hoc and membership roles on multiple NIH study sections. His research was abundantly supported over several decades by the NIH, The Department of Defense and other federal agencies, as well as by industry. He played major leadership roles in numerous distinguished medical, surgical, and scientific societies, including President of the Shock Society and the surgical section of the Society of Critical Care Medicine. A beloved educator, Mitch was recognized by multiple teaching awards and was widely sought as invited lecturer, visiting professor, and panelist all over the world.

Mitch was a devoted and compassionate caregiver who treated thousands of critically ill patients over his career, while mentoring and inspiring multiple generations of trainees. A true polymath, his knowledge of the latest scientific advances was matched by his encyclopedic recall of data, facts, and historical tidbits on a wide range of subjects. His ability to logically distill the most complex and difficult challenge into a nuanced but understandable framework for discussion was legendary, whether on teaching rounds, in the laboratory, or in the boardroom. His intellect was at times astounding, but always accompanied by great humility, warmth, and wit. A true visionary leader, he had an extraordinary ability to maintain focus on the goal of advancing knowledge while improving patient care. His Los Angeles Times obituary noted that “through both his words and actions, he taught colleagues not just about medicine and science but about life, relationships, honor, duty, and service. He was an immense presence.”

Mitch excelled at virtually everything he undertook. He was self-taught on guitar and harmonica, both of which he played in a rock band during college. A star tennis player in his youth, he continued to play tennis avidly throughout his life. Mitch had two children, Emily and Matthew, with Janis Wheeler Fink. In 2007, he reconnected with his college sweetheart Judy Rochlin, and they were married in 2011. Mitch is survived by his children, their mother, his wife Judy, and a step-daughter.