Monday, June 08, 2009

In memoriam: Ralph Criswell Benson, M.D. (1911-2009)

This weekend, the Oregonian ran a small obituary for Ralph C. Benson, M.D., who died in New Orleans on May 28, shortly after his 98th birthday.

Benson was born in 1911 in St. Louis, MO, and received his M.D. from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1936. He interned at Hopkins and then moved on to the New York Lying-In Hospital for a residency in obstetrics and gynecology. After a year of private practice, Benson was called to serve with the US Navy from 1942-1947; upon discharge, he assumed a position as associate professor of OB/GYN at the University of California San Francisco Medical School. He joined the faculty at the University of Oregon Medical School in 1956, becoming the first full-time chairman of the Dept. of Obstetrics and Gynecology, succeeding Howard Stearns, M.D.

In 1961, Benson and his colleague Howard J. Tatum, M.D., were awarded a $517,000 training grant from the Public Health Service, which they used to create the broadest OB/GYN training program then in existence in the United States. Benson's national reputation served to draw trainees to Oregon, remembered Alfred Ono, M.D., in his oral history interview.

Benson's research interests included thyroid function, causes and prevention of abortion, female genital cancers, and gynecologic pathology. He was an honorary member of the International College of Surgeons, a director of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and senior advisor to the National Board of Medical Examiners. Author of numerous publications, he was the co-author with Martin Pernoll of a Handbook of obstetrics & gynecology, which went through ten editions. In an oral history, colleague S. Gorham Babson, M.D., recalled his experience with Benson in writing the 1966 text Primer on prematurity and high-risk pregnancy:
ROSENWINKEL: Now, what I found most interesting was the various editions of the book you wrote on prematurity. When you published this in ’66, which was shortly after you became full time, it was called the Primer on Prematurity and High-risk Pregnancy, and then several editions—I think it was about five or six editions later, in 1986...

BABSON: No, the next one. The final one, the fifth, was published in 1986 with Dr. Pernoll, the lead writer.

ROSENWINKEL: The next one, yes. Well, you changed the title on the second edition; and then, in the eighties, it changed in its title to A Team Approach. So what I saw in that was an evolution from you and Dr. Ralph Benson, being two authors, to then a number of people collaborating on this book. So, how did the evolution of your book on prematurity parallel developments in the field of neonatology?

BABSON: That’s very interesting. Our first edition in 1966, Primer on Prematurity and High Risk Pregnancy, was a little simplistic. In 1970, we changed the name to indicate its perinatal coverage. Suddenly, we were aware of the entry into the perinatal age, with Diagnosis and Management of the Fetus and Neonate at Risk: A Guide for Team Care for our title in 1970. It was the first book on perinatal medicine, believe it or not.

ROSENWINKEL: Nationwide? Well, that’s a tribute to both of you.

BABSON: Yes. And interestingly enough, it went through five editions and was translated into four languages, which pleased me. My partner, Ralph Benson, was an able writer with better use of the English language than I.
Benson retired as chair emeritus from OHSU in 1976, and was succeeded by Leon Speroff, M.D.

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