Revered for his unparalleled body of work in critical care, from education and mentorship to publishing and clinical investigation, Jean-Louis Vincent, MD, PhD, FCCM, was honored with the Society of Critical Care Medicine’s (SCCM) Lifetime Achievement Award at the 45th Annual Critical Care Congress this past February in Orlando, Florida, USA.
“Dr. Vincent is one of the most dominant forces in critical care today,” said Mitchell M. Levy, MD, FCCM and past SCCM president. “He is one of the field’s leading lights—his contributions are almost too numerous to describe.”
Dr. Vincent is a professor of intensive care at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, and a consultant intensivist in the Department of Intensive Care at Erasme University Hospital in Brussels, Belgium. He is president of the World Federation of Societies of Intensive and Critical Care Medicine, and a past president of the Belgian Society of Intensive Care Medicine, the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine, the European Shock Society and the International Sepsis Forum. He is also a member of the Royal Medical Academy of Belgium and a former SCCM Council member.
In addition, for 36 years, Dr. Vincent has organized the International Symposium on Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine in his home city of Brussels. Dr. Levy has been a regular faculty member at the symposium, and cites it as a seminal influence on medical conferences. “The Brussels meeting is one of Jean-Louis’s biggest contributions,” Dr. Levy said. “He pioneered the ‘short talk’ meeting, a 20-minute presentation on a topic. When I was program chair for our Congress, we talked about how to base our meeting on his style—and it’s a meeting style used around the world now.”
Launched by Dr. Vincent in 1980, the annual four-day symposium attracts more than 6,200 international participants, and is open to all physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals with an interest in critical care or emergency medicine. The meeting is held every March. This year it had just ended the day of the Brussels airport and metro station bombings.
“The team approach is nowhere as strong as in the ICU,” Dr. Vincent said. “Look at our recent dramatic events in Brussels—the team approach has been essential to help people to get over it. Those who needed to speak knew we would listen; those who needed to cry knew they could do so in our arms.”
Dr. Vincent received his medical degree from the Université Libre de Bruxelles, with specialties in internal medicine and intensive care medicine. He says he initially chose the dual degree because “I like to consider the patient as a whole, and whole body aspects of disease. However, things evolved at too slow a pace in internal medicine—when you change a treatment, you must wait for several days before you can see any effect. When I was first exposed to critical care medicine, I discovered you can turn a respirator knob or a pump rate and see the effects within minutes … and all of this can save lives! What could be more exciting?” He also had a two-year fellowship at the University of Southern California with Max Harry Weil, MD, and quickly turned his full attention to the specialty.
Dr. Vincent says his greatest professional passion is understanding the disease process. “Bedside discussions are the best time of the day. It is never boring to be in the ICU, as one patient is very different from the next. Do you know any other specialty with such diversity?”
SCCM President Todd Dorman, MD, FCCM, has known Dr. Vincent for many years, through conferences, his service on the SCCM Council and as the U.S. editor for the journal ICU Management, for which Dr. Vincent serves as editor-in-chief.
“Jean-Louis’s dedication to critical care is frankly inspiring, and his work ethic is enviable,” Dr. Dorman said. “He has had a broad-based influence on the field because of his leadership, his numerous publications and his investigatory knowledge.” He added, “An extensive list of fellows have trained with him—he has helped seed and grow critical care academically and clinically around the globe.”
Dr. Vincent has edited 99 books and authored 930 original abstracts, more than 850 original articles and some 400 book chapters and review articles. In addition to ICU Management, he is the editor-in-chief of the journals Critical Care and Current Opinion in Critical Care, and is a member of the editorial board of 30 other journals. He is the senior editor of the journal Critical Care Medicine, and co-editor of the Textbook of Critical Care and the Encyclopedia of Intensive Care Medicine. He is currently working on the next editions of two of his textbooks, including a French edition of Textbook of Critical Care.
When asked about his prodigious publishing, he said, “Critical care medicine is—and should be—a passion. I love to work on evenings and weekends. I have an active social life as well, but no time for another hobby—except maybe to organize medical meetings. That is what I do in my free time as well.”
Among his many tributes, Dr. Vincent has received the SCCM Distinguished Investigator Award, the College Medalist Award of the American College of Chest Physicians, the Society Medal (lifetime award) of the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine, the Laerdal Award and the prestigious Belgian scientific award of the FRS-FNRS (Prix Joseph Maisin-Sciences biomédicales cliniques).
Still, Dr. Vincent reflected on his legacy with extreme modesty. “Very few will leave their name to posterity—I do not think people will know me in some years, but this is OK—more than ever, we live in the present and the future, not the past, and this is a good thing.”
But others feel differently. “He has a remarkable intellect and insight, an indomitable will, and a complete dedication and insistence on doing the right thing as a scientist and a clinician,” Dr. Levy said. “He is consistently a thought leader … and he has his fingers in everything. If someone discovers something new, Jean-Louis has already been there.”