James Edward Eckenhoff, MD, was born on April 2, 1915, in Easton, Maryland. He attended Transylvania College (Lexington, Ky) and the University of Kentucky before going on to attend the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1941. There, he decided to specialize in anesthesiology. Throughout his long career, Dr. Eckenhoff made considerable contributions to the field of anesthesia in particular and to medicine in general.
After 21 years at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Eckenhoff came to Northwestern in 1966. In addition to joining the medical school faculty as a professor, Dr. Eckenhoff also organized an autonomous Department of Anesthesia, and soon thereafter, was named director of the second Anesthesia Research Center. During his tenure as director, many reforms and innovations were implemented, primarily through the establishment of the new research center. Here, residents were trained in anesthesiology and conducted research. These changes helped the department raise its standards, making it one of the better anesthesia departments in the United States.
After Richard H. Young resigned as dean of the Northwestern University medical school in 1970, the school looked for a successor from within, appointing Dr. Eckenhoff. He instantly began a series of institutional advances, based on the recommendations of a Reorganization Committee that he had headed prior to becoming dean.
During Dr. Eckenhoff’s thirteen-year tenure in the role of dean, the medical school experienced a massive facelift, including the construction and/or acquisition of eight different buildings and the establishment of affiliations with other hospitals. Administrative advances were also quite noticeable, particularly in the creation of Faculty and Student Senates, the installation of an Office of Development, and the appointment of a director of Medical Education. Among the academic advances was the creation of the following programs: an MD-PhD program in conjunction with the Graduate School, a Master of Public Health program, a baccalaureate program in Nursing Education, a section on general medicine in the Department of Medicine, a wholly elective curriculum for fourth-year medical students, and annual visiting professorships to honor distinguished alumni. Under his leadership, funding more than doubled from 1971 to 1979.
Dr. Eckenhoff retired as dean in 1983. He served as president of the McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University from 1980 to 1985, and was named a distinguished Veterans Affairs physician in 1984. He passed away on Nov. 25, 1996, at the age of 81.
- Dr. Eckenhoff served as editor-in-chief of the journal Anesthesiology from 1958-1962. His book, “Introduction to Anesthesiology,” continues to be the standard text for beginning students in the field.
- 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of Dr. Eckenhoff’s birth. The Galter Health Sciences Library’s Reference Room is named in his honor.