Lives of the fellows

Reuben Mitchell Cherniack

b.15 June 1924 d.14 July 2016
MD Manitoba(1948) MSc(1954) FRCPC(1955) FACP(1961) FACCP(1970) FRCP(1977) Hon DSc Manitoba(1983)

Reuben M Cherniack was a pioneer and international leader in pulmonary medicine. He was one of the main individuals to move pulmonary physiology and lung function testing to the forefront of pulmonary medicine. Cherniack authored more than 160 peer-reviewed publications and mentored countless young physicians and scientists, many of whom became leaders of the next generations.

Cherniack was born in Canora, Saskatchewan, Canada, the son of Nathan Cherniack, a jeweller, and Rose Cherniack née Apert. His brother, Louis Cherniack [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.81], also became a physician. Reuben attended school in Winnipeg and graduated with a doctor of medicine degree in 1948 from the University of Manitoba. He then pursued medicine and pulmonary training at Winnipeg General Hospital and in the medicine and physiology departments of the University of Manitoba, Columbia University in New York and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Cherniack returned to Manitoba in 1952, where he served as director of the intensive care unit, associate dean of the University of Manitoba’s faculty of medicine and director of the university’s joint respiratory program. In 1974, he became chairman of the department of medicine at the University of Manitoba and physician-in-chief at the Health Sciences Center in Winnipeg.

In 1978 he was recruited to the National Jewish Hospital in Denver, Colorado as chairman of the department of medicine, a position he held until 1984. At the National Jewish, Cherniack built clinical and translational research programs to complement the very strong basic immunology group and emphasised the mentoring of medical residents and pulmonary fellows in the investigation and care of patients. He helped build the institution’s standing as one of the foremost respiratory programs in the country. He was responsible for the recruitment of many outstanding faculty during his tenure. After stepping down as department chair, he continued his outstanding career at the National Jewish Hospital as emeritus professor and from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center as distinguished professor until his death.

Cherniack’s research contributed to our fundamental understanding of lung physiology and changes in lung function during emphysema and cor pulmonale development. He further helped define the enormous burden of the work of breathing on oxygen consumption in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Cherniack was a contributor to the 1971 Task Force on Research in Respiratory Diseases convened by the National Heart and Lung Institute. He chaired the care of acute and chronic respiratory failure panel that made a number of recommendations around training, health care delivery and interdisciplinary research programs to investigate the pathogenesis of acute and chronic respiratory failure. This task force report ultimately led to the development of the structure and scientific direction of the division of lung diseases in the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Cherniack was recognised by numerous organisations in both the United States and Canada. In 1977, the Canadian government honoured him with the Queen Elizabeth medal for achievement. In 1998, he received the American Lung Association/American Thoracic Society’s highest honour, the Trudeau medal, which recognises lifelong major contributions to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of lung disease through leadership in research, education or clinical care. He was awarded an honorary doctor of science degree from the University of Manitoba. Other awards included honorary life membership of the Canadian Thoracic Society, the Distinguished Service award from the Canadian Society for Clinical Investigation and the James Waring award for scientific excellence from the American Lung Association of Colorado. He was also inducted into the Colorado Pulmonary Hall of Fame.

Cherniack was a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Canada, of the American College of Physicians and the American College of Chest Physicians and was an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. He was a charter member of the Johns Hopkins Society of Scholars and a founding member of the Society of Critical Care Medicine. He was also editor-in-chief of the American Review of Respiratory Disease, the premier journal in the field.

Cherniack was the epitome of a 'fighter'. He fought to defend himself as a child from bigoted bullies in his hometown of Winnipeg. He fought to become one of the few Jewish acceptances to medical school in the time of quotas in the 1940s. He fought to establish his vision of academic excellence in the departments that he led. He set high expectations for himself and those around him, displaying sartorial elegance and a keen sense of humour. He inspired respect and admiration, but could also come across as intimidating to those who looked up to him. As all medical students, residents and fellows were told before their first encounter with Reuben: ‘his bark is worse than his bite, but his bark can kill you!’ But as one got to know Reuben, he revealed his tender, compassionate, self-deprecating and undeniably charming side. He was a true mentor, teacher, colleague and friend to multiple generations of care givers and scientists.

Cherniack was married for 62 years to Edy Cherniack (née Gaspard), who predeceased him. He was survived by his daughter, Karen, and sons Mark and Mitch.

Irina Petrache
Richard Martin
Gregory P Downey
James Kiley
Mitch Cherniack

[Can Respir J 2007 Oct;14(7):383-392 – accessed 18 February 2019; University of Manitoba 27 May 1983 – accessed 18 February 2019; Health Services Centre Winnipeg Dr Reuben Mitchell Cherniack – accessed 18 February 2019; National Jewish Medical and Research Center Reuben M Cherniack MD MSc BSc FRCP MRCP FACCP Emeritus – accessed 18 February 2019; Denver Post 16 July 2016 – accessed 18 February 2019]

(Volume XII, page web)

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