On November 1, 2005, a bright light went out in the Department of Anesthesiology. After more than three decades M. Jane Matjasko, MD decided to retire. For 20 years she served as the chair of the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, illuminating the entire field and serving as a visionary leader, mentor and professor. In her own folksy wisdom, she reasons simply, "there comes a time when that's the thing to do next."
While we may no longer see Dr. Matjasko overseeing anesthesiology services in a host of environments around the hospital, while students may no longer hear her voice in seminars and lecture halls, her guiding light is not extinguished. Her influence, her generosity, her spirit will continue to serve the School of Medicine in the form of two endowments.
"There are some great things and some not so great things about retiring," says Dr. Matjasko. Certainly one of the great things - or more accurately two of the great things - are the two endowed professorships, one in education and one in research, that she has established in her name. "The money generated by these endowments will support the faculty who run special programs within the department, or the programs themselves," says Dr. Matjasko. "I see these endowments as essential for those research and educational activities that are not supported any other way."
Gary Fiskum, PhD, professor and vice chair for research for the Department of Anesthesiology agrees. "The Matjasko Professorship for Research in Anesthesiology will increase the long-term security of research activities in the department and will provide opportunities for research training of residents, fellows and junior faculty. It will also improve the recruitment of faculty members with research interests."
"It's always good to have some endowment funds in the department to maintain quality," Dr. Matjasko points out. "Many are not aware that National Institutes of Health (NIH) money is decreasing along with other public funding, and there is too little institutional support for departmental educational programs. The hospital supports the residents' salaries, but each department is responsible for the education of graduates," says Dr. Matjasko. Her long tenure as chair has taught her that,"there is seldom any money left in the coffers at the end of each fiscal year to improve our department's educational programs."
The Matjasko Professorship for Education in Anesthesiology will support faculty members such as Mary Njoko, MD, associate professor in charge of Anesthesiology Critical Care and the director of the Residency Program in the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who may use the income produced by the endowment for essential supplemental courses, or for sending residents to national and regional conferences and seminars."
Dr. Matjasko notes, "The last few years have been quite progressive. The monies raised are substantial. And the quality of the research in the medical school has escalated." Dr. Fiskum's team has been engaged in ground-breaking research in several crucial areas including the treatment of acute brain injury using neuroprotective therapies such as progesterone and acetyl-Lcarnitine. "A lot of people have gotten a lot of grants to do their work in the medical school. That's wonderful too,because there is money to pay faculty members via those grants. That's very positive, but still it is never enough."
Endowed professorships are proving more critical than ever, compensating for shortfalls and keeping the department moving forward. For research projects to succeed, a continuous source of funding is necessary. The department has significant on-going grants from NIH, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Defense. Currently, the department is working on an initiative with the U.S. Army. "But it is always nice to have a cushion," says Dr. Matjasko, "So you can create excellent programs without worrying about funding."
"The department is involved in numerous clinical services in the hospital, especially in the area of patient safety and outcomes. In fact the overall quality of care at the hospital is fundamentally the department's responsibility," says Dr. Matjasko. "Training in a broad range of environments is essential and costly, as is our ongoing research. And money is always a major challenge. We have to continually do innovative things to raise money."
"In my mind, the chair's mission, is the development of the faculty," says Dr. Matjasko. "It is my hope that the endowments will help the Department of Anesthesiology in this mission."
"Dr. Matjasko as a department chair was a champion for her faculty," remarks Fiskum. "She was unrelenting in fighting for her faculty. She fought very hard to retain and recruit faculty during tough times, when there was a great shortage of anesthesiologists. She was responsible for a higher quality of training at the school. Many of her faculty members have moved on to prestigious careers." Dr. Matjasko the teacher, the mentor, the trailblazer in anesthesiology has also moved on, but through her generous endowments, her spirit perseveres. "The extra money will always be there to help individuals achieve more," says Dr. Matjasko, "And invariably the school, the medical center and the community will benefit from their excellence."