Marie G. Kuffner

UCLA School of Medicine

Administering anesthesia to patients going into surgery is a tremendously complex specialty. Determining optimum dosages, potential adverse reactions, chemical interactions and a host of other issues is fraught with danger.

And while anesthesiologist Marie Kuffner is widely considered the absolute best in the field, she describes herself in plainer terms. "I'm very much a pragmatist," she says.

But pragmatism is no easy feat, especially considering the extreme challenges posed by some cases.

"I had an extremely obese patient a few days ago who was so obese that she had to be in an upright position to sleep," Kuffner explains. "She had a massive tumor in her throat and so I had to avoid relaxing the patient's throat tissue we had to keep her awake."

In addition to her work as an anesthesiologist, Dr. Kuffner spends a considerable amount of her time teaching and working for health policy reform.

In the classes she teaches at UCLA, she teaches her anesthesiology students what she considers the field's most important principles: First, do no harm keeping the patient safe is essential even if it means patient discomfort. Second, the patient is a person who just happens to be your patient.

Few, if any, local physicians have been as involved as Kuffner in government and professional affairs related to medicine. Kuffner recently became the first anesthesiologist to be elected president of the California Medical Association. Meanwhile, she also is widely noted for her long career in helping to establish regulations in medicine.

Consider her work in 1986, when she served on the Commission on Manpower and Workforce Issues, the Hospital Medical Staff Section Steering Committee, the Ad Hoc Committee on Young Physicians, the Council on Scientific Affairs, and the Division of Professional Economics, working mostly for the American Medical Association or its state and local chapters.

Currently she works on the Health Care Financing Administration's Physicians Advisory Council, where she reports directly to Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala. Kuffner is also heavily involved with UCLA committees and several other government regulatory agencies.

"The government has to take care of the poor, the indigent, the feeble and the old," she explains during a breathless cell-phone interview while on her way to another meeting. Kuffner, 58, has become a leading California crusader for more efficient means of regulating medicine.

Kuffner personally has more than a passing acquaintance with efficiency. As if all her other activities weren't enough to keep her busy, Kuffner also has authored numerous articles about AIDS, women in medicine, workers' compensation and primary care.

Scott Holleran

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