David Paulus, M.D., passed away unexpectedly Wednesday night (Dec. 12) as he slept. He was 67.
“Dave was a physician’s physician — he was my physician. Many of us asked him to take care of us individually when we needed to receive anesthesia,” said UF College of Medicine Dean Michael L. Good, M.D. “His heart was full of compassion and he lived fully in service of others. We cannot begin to name or number all the lives that he has touched.”
A professor in the department of anesthesiology and in the College of Engineering’s department of mechanical engineering, Paulus is remembered as someone who had a passion for making sure that patients had exceptional, safe experiences, and who had an unshakeable commitment to his colleagues. That dual commitment was on display when he guided the anesthesiology department to adopt as part of its mission statement the idea that the physicians take great care not just of their patients, but of each other.
“We wouldn’t have had that in there if it hadn’t been for Dave,” said anesthesiology chair Kayser Enneking, M.D. “I’ve really come to believe in it.”
Colleagues say he was always quick to share credit and kudos and truly saw himself as part of a team in which every person contributed and mattered.
Paulus was known for doing whatever he thought was right to achieve the best outcome for patients, even though this approach sometimes made him unpopular with colleagues. But in the end, colleagues said, they could see that his efforts were carried out with the best intentions and noblest spirit, and, more often than not, resulted in positive change.
A master anesthesiologist, Paulus was known for his work with children who needed repeated radiation therapy sessions. He would come in at 6 a.m. before things started up in the OR, so he could meet the children to help ease their fear and explain to them what they were going through. And he always showed excitement about patient successes.
“David would just burst … burst into my office with this infectious enthusiasm of the moment, sometimes about a patient that had just had some miraculous save, and he would just effusively compliment his colleagues and say what a great thing they had done,” said Tim Goldfarb, CEO of Shands HealthCare. “It was almost rollicking. He’d say ‘you should hear about these patients’ or ‘we had this kid … it was fantastic.’”
Paulus served the UF College of Medicine and Shands HealthCare in many ways, in many different areas of operation. He made his mark in the design of the Shands south tower with special touches that help improve patients’ experiences. Along with the late J.S. Gravenstein, M.D., and Nik Gravenstein, M.D., the former anesthesiology chair,
Paulus created a course that allows engineers and marketing professionals who design and sell operating room equipment to come and see their equipment in operation, and think of how to devise ways to improve the equipment from a patient’s standpoint. People come from around the world to attend the course, and in this way, Paulus’ impact spread beyond the patients he saw directly to countless others around the world.
“Dr. Paulus’ service was remarkable and invaluable and the effects of his passing will be felt for years to come. It’s hard to think of anything on the campus that he hasn’t done at one time or another in his career,” Good said. “It is not an understatement to say that it will take three or four faculty members to fill all the roles that David did in patient care, medical education and innovation.”
Colleagues say Paulus was always available, and a consummate listener. He and his wife, Louise, often met for dinner with other physicians at the irreverently named Berman Antisocial Club, a moniker that acknowledged at least one of the doctors would be unable to socialize because he or she was taking care of patients.
A scholar, innovator and leader, Paulus had a stellar career of accomplishments and service. He earned his medical degree at the University of Vermont and his master’s degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin. He came to UF as an anesthesiology resident in 1977 and held many faculty and leadership positions over the years, including associate chair for clinical care in the department of anesthesiology, medical director of the Shands operating room, medical director of Shands HomeCare and board member for Shands HealthCare.
He authored and edited six books and contributed chapters to 20 others. He co-authored 30 papers in peer-reviewed journals such as Anesthesia and Analgesia, the Annals of Internal Medicine, the Journal of Clinical Anesthesia and the Journal of Cardiothoracic and Vascular Anesthesia, and had many invited articles and editorials in scholarly journals and innumerable lectures, presentations and exhibits.
His awards include a Quality Award Certificate of Merit from the Society for Ambulatory Care Professionals, membership in the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honorary Society and the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honorary Society, a Society of Authors and the Royal Society of Medicine Book Award and multiple Physician Customer Service Recognition Awards from Shands at UF.
He served in many medical professional organizations, including the American Medical Association, for which he was chair of the Council on Medical Education and Science; the Florida Medical Association; the Alachua County Medical Association, for which he served as president; the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation; the American Society of Anesthesiologists; the Society for Technology in Anesthesia and many others.
He held numerous visiting professorships across the country, and taught and advised students and professionals not only in the UF College of Medicine, but also in the Levin College of Law, the College of Public Health and Health Professions and the Warrington College of Business.
Still, he found time to help his neighbors. He was very active with Habitat for Humanity, helping to build houses for fellow Gainesville residents, and active in his neighborhood organization.
“He put his heart and soul into everything he did,” Enneking said. “He was an incredibly passionate person who just wanted to make the world a better place — and he did.”
Paulus is survived by his wife, Louise, and his children Eric, Matthew and Lizzie. A memorial service will be held at UF&Shands in coming weeks. The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the University of Florida Foundation in Paulus’ name.