Anesthesiologist Jane Fitch jokes that her profession is the Rodney Dangerfield of medical specialties. “We give our patients medication to forget us, and then we struggle to have them know what we do,” she said.
Inducted last month as president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) — only the second female president since the group formed in 1905 — Fitch spends much of her time these days on public awareness, education and advocacy, from planning and attending annual conferences and meetings of the 50,000-member association to speaking on Capitol Hill and the forthcoming christening of the society's new Chicago headquarters.
Meanwhile, her “real” job is as chairwoman of the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine's anesthesiology department, which employs 200 and has an annual budget of $40 million.
Her most fun days are Mondays, Fitch said, because that's when she's in the operating room. “I get to take care of patients and teach students,” said Fitch, who figures she's trained 100 of the 350 anesthesiologists practicing in Oklahoma.
From her offices at the OU Health Sciences Center, Fitch, 57, sat down with The Oklahoman to talk about her professional and personal life. This is an edited transcript:
Q: Chairing a med school department is a big job alone. What inspired you to take on even more responsibility, as president of two professional organizations: the American Society of Anesthesiologists and the Society of Academic Anesthesiology Associations?
A. I grew up a Southern Baptist preacher's kid and was involved in everything and anything. I learned to get along, that you can‘t play favorites, and to always behave — all of which has served me well over the years. I want to make things better for our community and our patients.
Q: Tell us about your childhood.
A: I grew up in southeast North Carolina, the youngest of three children. My brother, who's 10 years older, is a retired private practice surgeon, and my sister, who's eight years older, is a retired principal. They both still live in North Carolina. Our parents are deceased. I spent most of my school days in Durham, where was I drawn to health and sciences. I played the piano, flute and piccolo, and decided to pursue nursing after volunteering as a hospital candy striper as a teenager.
Dr. Jane C.K. Fitch
• Position: Chair of the anesthesiology department, the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine.
• Birth date and birthplace: Sept. 14, 1956, in Clinton, N.C.
• Family: Husband John Fitch. They were high school sweethearts and married when she was 19 and he was 22.
• Housing addition: Southlake in Edmond, a gated community with two-acre lots that backs to Lake Arcadia.
• Church home: First Presbyterian Church of Oklahoma City.
• Education: bachelor's in nursing, Lamar State College (her first three years were at Duke University); graduate program for nurse anesthesia, Baylor College of Medicine; doctor of medicine; University of Texas Medical School; anesthesiology residency and fellowship in cardiothoracic anesthesiology, University of Washington in Seattle.
• Professional organizations: President of the American Society of Anesthesiologists and president of the Society of Academic Anesthesiology Associations.
• Civic involvement: Leadership Oklahoma, Class XX
• Pastimes: Travel (She and John have visited all 50 states and are on a quest to visit all 13 of the Presidential libraries; they've seen six); and collecting American and foreign antique clocks.