Spotlighting a Critical Care Medicine Legend

2015 - 2 April – Clinical Controversies
This article pays tribute to Ake Grenvik, MD, PhD, MCCM, a critical care medicine legend.


Ake Grenvik, MD, PhD, MCCM, is one of the pioneers of critical care medicine. He was born in Sunne, Sweden. He earned his Doctor of Medicine degree at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm in 1956 and his doctorate in physiology at the University of Uppsala, Uppsala, Sweden, in 1966. He trained in general, thoracic and cardiovascular surgery, as well as anesthesiology. Peter Safar, MD, MCCM, recruited him to Pittsburgh in 1968 to be one of the first physicians to formally train in critical care medicine. Not long after his training, Dr. Grenvik became the director of the Multidisciplinary Critical Care Training Program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the first and largest such training program in the world. Over his many years as director, more than 400 young physicians from multiple specialties benefited from his training and ultimately went on to practice critical care medicine throughout the world. Dr. Grenvik was also instrumental in the development of critical care certification by the boards of internal medicine, anesthesiology, surgery, and pediatrics.

Because of his expertise and innovation in education and mentoring, Dr. Grenvik was one of the founders of the Peter M. Winter Institute for Simulation Education and Research (WISER) at the University of Pittsburgh, which has become one of the leading simulation centers in the world. He was the research director for WISER until 2007.

Clinically, Dr. Grenvik served as the director of the surgical intensive care unit at the University of Pittsburgh, providing in-hospital leadership to improve the quality of care in the intensive care unit (ICU). He helped to define the structure for critical care units, including the physical space and the multidisciplinary practice model with the inclusion of nursing, respiratory and other key ICU personnel. Dr. Grenvik also focused his efforts on responding quickly to unstable ward patients to prevent further deterioration and cardiac arrest, as well as unnecessary ICU admissions. With the collaboration of Richard Simmons, MD, then Chair of the Department of Surgery, Dr. Grenvik initiated one of the first medical emergency response team systems, which has served as a model for many similar systems and has now become an accepted practice in most hospitals.

Throughout his career, Dr. Grenvik was an active researcher who published more than 300 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. He made particularly important contributions in physiology, ICU development and administration, physician education, ethics, and end-of-life care. Dr. Grenvik was also a consultant for Laerdal Medical in Stavanger, Norway.

While he advanced the ability to prolong life, Dr. Grenvik became concerned with ethical issues surrounding the end of life, particularly as he and his wife, Inger, struggled with the death of their son from brain cancer. They subsequently donated the funds to establish what is now known as the Society of Critical Care Medicine’s (SCCM) Grenvik Family Award for Ethics. Dr. Grenvik also served as the Chair of the Ethics Committee for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Dr. Grenvik has received numerous honors and awards from various organizations over the years, including SCCM’s Lifetime Achievement Award and the Shubin-Weil Master Clinician/Teacher Award. He is a founding member of SCCM and has served the Society as president, member of the editorial board for Critical Care Medicine, and chairman of the Membership Committee. He also was a member of the Credentials Committee of the American College of Critical Care Medicine. He served as co-editor of SCCM's Textbook of Critical Care, the first multidisciplinary textbook dedicated to the critical care field.

Throughout his career, Dr. Grenvik’s wife, Inger, supported him both personally and professionally. She often served as his secretary, confidante and travel companion. She also became very involved in SCCM activities. She could frequently be seen organizing the staff and greeting attendees during SCCM’s annual Congress.

Most importantly, Dr. Grenvik inspired hundreds of young physicians to become critical care practitioners, leaders in the critical care community and active members of SCCM. He has been an inspiration and role model for many as he forged a path for young clinicians in the practice of critical care.