|Retiring MUSC dean on cruise control
by Adam Parker
The Post and Courier
The vessel is called the Sweetgrass. It’s a 41-foot trawler class made
by Roughwater Boats.
The vessel’s captain is Jerry Reves, a modest-looking man with
charcoal-gray hair, a ready smile and an adventurous spirit.
Reves and his wife, Jenny Cathcart, are about to embark on a journey as
circuitous and lengthy as the path Reves has walked during his
professional career: “The Great Loop.”
The pair will travel by ocean, Gulf, interstate waterways, river and
canal—mostly one-way except for a couple of brief excursions that will
require but a quick skip in and then back out—returning to where they
started, Charleston. Home.
Reves, who turns 67 this summer, is dean of the College of Medicine at
MUSC. He runs the show. After nearly a decade at the helm—after
improvements, expansions, a pivotal accreditation—he is retiring,
walking away from this last in a long series of leadership jobs for
some well-earned R&R.
After nine years at
the helm of the College of Medicine (COM), Dean Jerry Reves, M.D.,
retires from MUSC. At last Aug. 22's COM White Coat Ceremony, Reves
congratulates a medical student from the Class
He says most serious jobs require about 10 years to accomplish one’s
Reves, whose father taught math and coached tennis at The Citadel, grew
up on campus and swam in the Ashley River. He attended the Gaud School
for Boys at South Adgers Wharf and East Bay Street, then spent the 11th
and 12th grades at the Darlington School for Boys in Rome, Ga.
Having The Citadel for a playground was great fun, he said. His bosom
buddy was Joe Harrison, whose father taught English at the school.
Harrison said it was a protected, safe environment that had a lot to
offer a couple of rambunctious boys. Pedestrians were respected. Large
fields were available to play on. The boys played basketball, football
“It was quite colorful,” Harrison said. “There was plenty of nature
around, trees to climb.” Football was a favorite pastime.
“We actually played on a team that was coached by a couple of Citadel
cadets who had spotted us on the field,” Harrison said. “Jerry was
always quarterback. I was the end. We spent hours practicing pass
patterns, which I still to this day remember.”
When they were old enough, they double dated a little, then it was off
to college. Reves went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.
Harrison attended The University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., not
too far away. Reves tried to get him to go to the Grand Ole Opry, but
“At the time, I didn’t like country music,” Harrison said. After
college and during the years Reves was working in Birmingham, Ala., and
the 17-year period he spent at Duke University, the two men lost touch.
But when Harrison heard that his friend had been recruited in 2001 for
a position at the Medical University, that he was coming home, they got
back in touch.
“It was just like we’d seen each other yesterday,” Harrison said.
Reves’ father had gone to Vanderbilt, and now the son followed in dad’s
footsteps, majoring in English and minoring in philosophy. He was good
enough at tennis to make the varsity team. William Faulkner was (and
is) his favorite writer.
“I had been in a cocoon until then,” Reves said. “It was the first time
I’d ever heard a point of view different than what I’d grown up with.”
He graduated from Vanderbilt in 1965. But it was doctoring that soon
caught his imagination. He enrolled at the Medical University in 1969
to study anesthesiology, landed an internship and residency at the
University of Alabama Hospital and Clinics in Birmingham, then decided
the combination of medicine, academics and research suited him.
For two years, 1972-74, he worked at Bethesda Naval Hospital before
returning to Alabama, where he spent 10 years as a professor of
anesthesiology. He helped develop a sedative-hypnotic called Midazolan,
which soon was marketed by the pharmaceutical company Roche and was
called the new drug Versed.
It became the standard anesthetic used during surgery, replacing
Pentothal, which had been most widely used since 1942. Pentothal,
though, made patients feel like they were “being spun into oblivion,”
Reves said. The newer anesthetic provoked a more natural sleep, he
In 1984, he went to Duke University Medical Center, becoming first
director of cardiothoracic anesthesia, then director of the heart
center and later chairman of the department of anesthesiology.
Reves said being an anesthesiologist is akin to being the conductor of
a big orchestra, calling on one drug, then another, adjusting inflow to
achieve just the right effect.
The helpless patient relies completely on the doctors.
“It’s like seeing a baby born,” Reves said, “and realizing—oh, my
God—that baby depends on me.”
At the Medical University, Reves is a multitasker. Besides being dean
of the College of Medicine, he is professor of anesthesia and
perioperative medicine, professor in the department of cell and
molecular pharmacology and experimental therapeutics, and vice
president for medical affairs.
He’s recruited top people, such as Andrew Kraft, who runs the Hollings
Cancer Center and oversaw the process that secured its National Cancer
Institute designation. He ensured that the Medical University reached
the top third of the medical schools recognized by the National
Institutes of Health. He helped bring in millions of dollars in
“What (all this) really does is puts you in the elite,” he said,
proudly crediting these successes to the many people who did most of
the heavy lifting. “I’m more like a coach, I select the players,” Reves
said. “But they have the talent, they have to perform, they have to
perform like a team.”
At Duke, his emphasis was on helping to advance careers, he said. At
the Medical University, it’s more about improving the institution.
Harrison said his friend has a great work ethic and is helpful,
generous and honest. “I don’t think anyone can push him around,” he
Two hospitals in the South with the best reputations are Duke and
Emory, Reves noted. That’s where people with serious health problems
historically have gone for specialized treatment. Not so much anymore.
“We want to make it so Charlestonians don’t have to leave Charleston,”
A big job
Kraft was recruited by Reves in 2004 from the University of Colorado.
As director of the Hollings Cancer Center, he has worked closely with
his boss to make the center a world-class institution.
“Being dean is a complicated job,” Kraft said. Reves is responsible for
students, the clinical apparatus and the research scientists. “It’s a
big job,” and it’s people-oriented, Kraft said, which plays to Reves’
strengths. “He’s a good listener.” He marries his own abilities and
experiences with those of others, empowering people and guiding them at
the same time, Kraft added.
Reves also has worked hard to build bridges between departments, which
tend to work in silos, Kraft said. Among other things, the dean has
encouraged his colleagues in other departments to get their patients
into trials. There are more than 100 trials under way at any given
time, Kraft said. More than half of all doctors in South Carolina were
educated at the Medical University. During the past nine years, since
Reves became dean, the school has turned out 1,200 doctors.
A decade ago, the university admitted about 135 people a year; today,
it enrolls 165 annually.
About 40 percent of the graduating class is focused on primary care:
family medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine, psychiatry and OB/GYN.
The rest pursue more lucrative specialties. Dr. Etta Pisano a
radiologist and breast imaging pioneer from Duke Medical School, was
hired to replace Reves. She will be the Medical University’s first
female dean of the College of Medicine.
note: The article ran June 26 in The Post and Courier and is reprinted
July 2, 2010