The ABA Lifetime Achievement Award is awarded to recognize lifetime outstanding achievement and contribution to the field of burn care. Congratulations to Palmer Q. Bessey, MD, FACS, MS, the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient.
Dr. Palmer Q. Bessey, MD, FACS, MS is the Aronson Family Foundation Professor of Burn Surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, where he has also served as Associate Director of the William Randolph Hearst Burn Center.
He was born and raised in a New Jersey suburb within view of New York City and graduated from public high school. He attended Williams College in Northwestern Massachusetts and graduated in 1967. Although he formally majored in chemistry, he spent most of his time in the theatre. After obtaining a Master’s degree in Physical Chemistry from the University of Oregon, sandwiched between two years as a laboratory technician in Boston, he began medical school at the University of Vermont College of Medicine in Burlington, where he graduated in 1975.
He completed surgical residency and a special fellowship in surgical critical care at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) as well as a research fellowship in surgical metabolism at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Later in New York, in a senior moment, he completed Master’s studies in Epidemiology at Columbia University. He began his academic career at UAB. He has also held faculty positions at Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Rochester. He moved to Cornell in 2000.
Although his focus initially was on Trauma and Critical Care, he always participated in the care of burn patients. He saw his first serious burn case in medical school: a 50 year old with a 50% burn. Hopeless at that time. At UAB he had the good fortune to work with Alan Dimick and later in St. Louis with William Monafo, both pioneers in contemporary burn care and early Presidents of the ABA.
Dr. Bessey was part of the team at Cornell that helped care for the major burn survivors of the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001. He has dedicated his career to improving the care of people with serious injuries from trauma and burns, striving for both survival and quality of life. He has served as a State Chair and Region Chief on the Committee on Trauma of the American College of Surgeons and as a Director of the American Board of Surgery. He has been a member of the ABA since 1979. He has served on several committees, especially those related to the ABA burn registry: NBR, BQIP, and now QBRC. He was elected ABA Secretary in 2008 and was President in 2013-2014.
He continues his academic activities at Cornell, hoping that neither achievement nor lifetime will end too soon.