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Bull Anesth Hist. 2011 Jul;29(3):33, 36-9.

The origins of the modern pain clinic at the Mayo Clinic.

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  • 1Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, Minnesota, USA.


In the 1970s the practice of pain management evolved from the isolated anesthesiologist practicing pain "on the side" to a multi-disciplinary model. The impetus behind this change remains obscure. To understand how this national trend occurred locally and to examine national institutional challenges which should be reflected at the Mayo Clinic that stimulated the establishment of a modern academic pain practice, we interviewed appropriate staff members and reviewed relevant departmental meeting notes. Following the 1959 departure of Dr. John Lundy from Mayo, Dr. Robert Jones became the primary practitioner of pain procedures in addition to his anesthesiology practice. In 1973, close to his retirement, Jones wrote a letter to the department chairman, Dr. Richard Theye, expressing frustration because this divided practice hindered patient care, education, and research opportunities. In 1974 Dr. Lee Nauss joined Mayo upon residency completion at Virginia Mason where he received training in regional anesthesia and met Dr. John Bonica. Nauss introduced epidural steroid injections, which became in such great demand that other anesthesiologists needed to cover his rooms. Within two months, Theye asked Nauss to create a stand-alone pain clinic. Nauss recruited Dr. Tony Wang and opened the clinic that year. This pain clinic increased patient access, improved resident education, allowed for the establishment of a fellowship program, and produced ground-breaking research (e.g., the human administration of intrathecal morphine). The establishment of the pain clinic addressed the deficiencies of a mixed pain and anesthesia practice. The pain specialist could now focus attention on and provide better access for pain patients, keep current with clinical practice, engage in research, and educate future pain specialists.

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