Remembering Dr. Michael S. Gordon, Medical Simulation Pioneer

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Over his long and distinguished career at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Michael S. Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., revolutionized medical education around the world. He created Harvey, the world’s first cardiopulmonary patient simulator, and UMedic, an innovative computer- and web-based program, to train physicians, emergency responders and military personnel to save countless lives.

Gordon, the founder and director emeritus of the Michael S. Gordon Center for Research in Medical Education, died suddenly on July 7 at age 80.

“We have lost a giant in innovative education and patient care,” said Laurence B. Gardner, M.D., Executive Dean for Education and Policy and former interim Dean of the Miller School of Medicine. “He was truly an innovator, developing the Harvey simulator for teaching and assessment of clinical skills in cardiology. It remains the standard for instruction in this area around the world.”

A native of Chicago, Gordon planned to become a research biochemist and earned his doctorate before training with renowned cardiologist Proctor Harvey, M.D., his mentor and the “godfather” of the patient simulator. Robert Boucek, M.D., the chair of cardiology at the time, invited Gordon to join the UM faculty in 1966, launching his remarkable academic career.

Gordon’s first cardiology patients included several airline pilots who had perfected their piloting skills on flight simulators. Recognizing that simulators could also help medical students improve their bedside cardiac examination skills, Gordon built his first version of Harvey in 1968. To collaborate with him on the development of the Harvey curriculum and computer-based training programs, he formed a worldwide consortium of physicians, nurses, engineers, and educators known as the M.I.A.M.I. (Miami International Alliance for Medical-Education Innovation) Group.

In 1978, with the advent of the Laserdisc, capable of playing high-quality audio and video, Gordon and his colleagues designed a case-based program for each heart disease — complete with full-color video clips of actual catheterizations and surgeries — for students to use on their own or in small groups. Today, at the touch of a button, the life-sized mannequin realistically simulates nearly every cardiac disease by varying blood pressure, pulses, heart sounds, murmurs, and breathing.

“Michael Gordon demonstrated over his career the ability not only to do things, but to do the things that most needed to be done,” said S. Barry Issenberg, M.D., Senior Associate Dean for Research in Medical Education, Director of the Gordon Center, and the Michael S. Gordon Professor of Medicine. “As a leader in the field of medicine, Michael inspired others to dream more, to do more, to learn more, and to become more.”

In the 1980s, Gordon went on to develop a computer-based learning system, now called UMedic, which provides Web-based training for cardiology, neurology, and emergency medicine skills worldwide. Always seeking better ways to provide cardiology care, Gordon worked with Miami Fire Rescue Chief Carlos Gimenez (now Miami-Dade mayor) in the early 1990s to change the training for first responders.

“Before then, paramedics were taught to ‘scoop and run,’ taking a patient to the emergency department, where doctors could initiate treatment,” he said. “We changed that model, and developed a life-saving protocol for handling heart attacks and other medical emergencies on the spot.”

That initiative grew to become the Gordon Center’s Emergency Medical Skills Training Programs, which now reach professionals in 600 Florida agencies, as well as 800-plus in other states and international locations. In these training programs, paramedics diagnose problems using actors to play the role of patients.

The center has also been designated as the lead training center for the Florida Department of Health’s Emergency Response to Terrorism training program, and trains U.S. Army Forward Surgical Trauma Teams before their front-line deployments.

“By better training those who serve and protect our citizens and our country, we have been able to contribute to a major reduction in mortality,” said Gordon, adding that medical personnel trained at the Gordon Center and who lost their lives in combat are honored on the center’s Wall of Heroes.

Through the years, both Gordon and the center have received numerous awards for innovation in medical education. For example, Gordon received the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s most prestigious health care honor, the AXAAdvisors Lifetime Achievement Award, in 2013, before his retirement that December. He also won the “Gifted Teacher” Award of the American College of Cardiology, and the “pioneer” awards from both the Society for Simulation in Healthcare and his alma mater, the University of Illinois.

With his wife Lynda, Gordon has provided ongoing financial support to the Gordon Center and endowed a chair for its director. He has also funded scholarships for medical students, and made donations to the Richter Library, Frost School of Music, Jerry Herman Ring Theatre, Department of Athletics and other programs.

“My mother Dorée was a leading lady on Broadway at age 17 who gave up her career to marry my father Lee,” Gordon said. “By supporting the University’s theater and music programs, we honor her memory. I also love watching the ’Canes play football and bought season tickets as soon as I could afford to do so.”

Reflecting on his career, Gordon said, “The keys to my success have been my unrelenting focus and my desire to improve the lives of my patients as a physician, researcher and educator. The Miller School of Medicine has given me every opportunity to be creative and has supported our innovations through the decades. I will always be grateful to the U.”

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