We are deeply saddened to announce that Basil A. Pruitt, Jr., MD died yesterday afternoon, March 17, 2019. Dr. Pruitt had a major and sustained international impact on the fields of surgery, burn care, trauma and critical care. His contributions in these fields were transformational and directly led to dramatic improvements in patient care marked by improved survival, decreased complications and improved health.
Dr. Pruitt graduated from Harvard College (1952) followed by Medical School at Tufts (1957). He completed his initial surgical training at the Boston City Hospital under the tutelage of C. Gardner Childs (1957-1962). From there he completed his surgical residency at Brooke General Hospital in San Antonio (1964).
From 1967-1968 Dr. Pruitt served as Chief of Surgery and Chief of Professional Services at the busiest evacuation hospital in Vietnam (400 to 500 major operations a month) and then Chief of the Trauma Research Team, where he studied the cardiopulmonary responses to injury in combat casualties. Dr. Pruitt became the Commander and Director of the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research where he served for the next 27 years. He went on to literally change history by revolutionizing the management of trauma, burn and critically ill or injured patients worldwide.
Dr. Pruitt retired from the US Army Medical Corps in 1995 and accepted a faculty position as Professor of Surgery at UT Health San Antonio, where he held the Dr. Ferdinand P. Herff Chair in Surgery. In his role at UT Health San Antonio, Dr. Pruitt has been a cherished, respected and loved mentor and colleague. He has supported the development of hundreds of residents, students, faculty, staff and leaders at UT Health San Antonio. As a faculty member at UT Health San Antonio, Dr. Pruitt remained an active contributor to the US Army Institute for Surgical Research (USA ISR), and also served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Trauma for 17 years.
Dr. Pruitt’s work as a leader, surgeon and scientist with the USA ISR forged a model where rigorous scientific inquiry was followed by a dogged translation of this science into dramatic care improvements. This is the gem crafted by Dr. Basil A. Pruitt, Jr. This work transformed the fields of burn care, trauma and surgical critical care.
Cumulative Innovative Achievements
Although Dr. Pruitt’s research had a military beginning, the fruits of his labor have been assimilated into civilian medical practice worldwide with associated dramatic reductions in both death and complication rates.
Dr. Pruitt has been internationally recognized with appointments to the NIH study sections, the Veterans Administration Merit Review Board for Surgery, and the Shriners Hospitals Research Advisory Board and Clinical Outcomes Studies Advisory Board. He has also served as a reviewer for the Hong Kong Research Grants Council, the BC Health Research Foundation and Alberta Heritage Foundation, and the NIH for which he has functioned as a special panel member. Over the course of his career he authored over 470 peer reviewed publications, 181 textbook chapters and 15 books and monographs.
Perhaps Dr. Pruitt’s most enduring legacy is his mentorship of a cadre of physicians and scientists who have become international leaders in Medicine. Among that group are 46 directors of burn centers and units in the United States and abroad, 23 department chairs (including departments of surgery, urology, anesthesiology, plastic surgery, pediatric surgery and medicine), 11 past presidents of the American Burn Association, 2 past presidents of the International Society for Burn Injury, past Presidents of the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma, the past Chair of the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma and at least six academic chairs in the Japanese fields of Acute Care Medicine and Surgery.
Dr. Pruitt served for twenty years as the Associate Editor of the Journal of Trauma. Following this he became the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Trauma for the next 17 years. Additionally, Dr. Pruitt served as a member of the Editorial Board of 13 other journals, including two published in China and one published in Turkey. He has served as an ad hoc reviewer for an additional 26 journals.
One measure of his stature as an innovator is the recognition by his peers. He was elected as the president of 12 surgical societies:
- American Burn Association
- American Association for the Surgery of Trauma
- Southern Surgical Association
- American Surgical Association
- Halsted Society
- Surgical Infection Society
- American Trauma Society
- North American Burn Society
- Western Surgical Association
- International Society for Burn Injuries
- Surgeons Travel Club
- Shock Society
His awards include 11 honorary memberships, the Metcalfe Award, the Curtis P.Artz Memorial Award, the Harvey Stuart Allen Distinguished Service Award, the Baron Dominique Larrey Award for Surgical Excellence, the National Safety Council’s Surgeons’ Award for Distinguished Service to Safety, an International Honorary Professorship of Surgery at the Third Military Medical College People’s Republic of China, the Danis Award from the Société Internationale de Chirurgie, and the American Surgical Association’s Medallion for Scientific Achievement. In 2000, Dr. Pruitt was recognized with the Distinguished Investigator Award from the American College of Critical Care Medicine along with the G. Whitaker International Burns Prize. The Tanner-Vandeput-Boswick Burn Prize was awarded to him in 2006. In 2007, he accepted the Roswell Park Medal and received a lifetime achievement award from the Society of University Surgeons. As a co-winner of the King Faisal International Prize in Medicine in 2008, Dr. Pruitt was honored in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In 2010, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Burn Association; later that same year, he was inducted as the first foreign honorary member of the Japanese Association for Acute Medicine. In 2015 Dr. Pruitt received the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2017 he was selected as the 2nd Vice President of the American College of Surgeons and later in the same year, he was honored as an Icon in Surgery by the American College of Surgeons. In 2018 Dr. Pruitt received the BioMed SA Lifetime Achievement Award.
Of burn care peer reviewed articles over the past 55 years, Dr. Pruitt has had the largest number of top cited articles.
Over the past half century, Dr. Basil A. Pruitt, Jr., a great citizen, surgeon, innovator, mentor, and leader, transformed our world through his dogged commitment to science and his service to humanity. Dr. Pruitt’s contributions live on through the work of surgeons, physicians, scientists and organizations he shaped and inspired. Dr. Pruitt’s mentorship and support has made a real difference in my life and in the lives of our faculty, residents and students. We are forever grateful. Our thoughts and prayers are with his amazing family in this time of loss.
For all the patients who will be treated at a burn center or trauma center today, this week and into the future: each and every one of these patient’s care has been impacted and improved through the lifetime work of Dr. Basil A. Pruitt, Jr.
Services are pending and we will share this information as soon as it is available.
Ronald M. Stewart, MD
Professor and Chair of Surgery
Dr. Witten B. Russ Chair in Surgery