Distinguished Teacher: Masters the Understanding of the Cardiac Anatomy, Physiology and Physical Examination

Driven to relate the function of the heart with the sounds and murmurs he heard with his stethoscope, John Michael Criley, MD, FACC, married his love of photography and skills in the dark room with his work in one of the first-ever cardiac catheterization laboratories to create X-ray motion pictures depicting the functional anatomy of the beating human heart. “I felt like a pioneer, like the Wright Brothers, entering a new field of seeing inside the heart, a decade before echocardiography,” he shares. Thus began a career dedicated to mastering the understanding of the cardiac anatomy, physiology and physical examination, but most of all, to teaching.

Information GraphicThe consummate educator, devoted to teaching the art and science of medicine, Criley’s influence is felt at the bedside, in the classroom, and through multimedia teaching programs. In an effort to reproduce the rich training experience he received at Johns Hopkins in the early days of cardiology when the only diagnostic tools were a stethoscope, electrocardiogram, and a treadmill, he is creating a comprehensive program of several hundred cases of virtual patient exams. This follows decades of producing films on the functional anatomy of the aortic and mitral valves, developing interactive multimedia CD-ROMs and a free website on the physiology of heart sounds and murmurs, and teaching modules on electrocardiography with invaluable help from his “computer-generation sons.”

While embracing new technologies in cardiology, Criley believes they should complement and supplement encounters with the patient; obtaining the history and performing a physical examination with inspection, palpation, auscultation and contemplation.

Criley was inspired by some of the legends in diagnostics. After medical school at Stanford University, he followed his grandfather’s footsteps into cardiology and in training at Johns Hopkins, where his grandfather had worked with William Osler, MD. Criley served a three-year residency on the Osler Service followed by a three-year fellowship in cardiology. He went onto become director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratories at Johns Hopkins after completion of his formal training.

He met several mentors during his stint at Johns Hopkins, including Richard S. Ross, MD, FACC, who was the chief of cardiology, and Victor A. McKusick, MD, PhD, who sparked an interest in heart sounds. He credits Helen B. Taussig, MD, FACC, known for developing the Blalock-Taussig procedure, for teaching him about congenital heart disease, and for making it possible for him to go to Vellore, India, to teach and install a cardiac catheterization laboratory at the Christian Medical College there.

A proud 5th generation Angelino, he then returned to Los Angeles, CA, and was chief of cardiology at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center for two decades, where he is currently Emeritus Professor of Medicine and Radiological Sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, where he has taught for more than 49 years.

In 1969, he developed the Los Angeles County Paramedic Program, designing the curriculum and training candidates from the Los Angeles County and City Fire Departments to provide pre-hospital critical care. With his usual humility, Criley credits the hit television show, 'Emergency!', with the adoption of paramedic services across the country. True to life, the character based on Criley testified at a legislative committee hearing to promote support of the bill allowing paramedics to provide advanced emergency care without supervision. Ronald Reagan, as governor of California, signed such legislation in 1970. Although he never made it onscreen, Criley served as a technical advisor, and his hospital became known as “Rampart General” in the show.

The Distinguished Teacher Award was presented to Criley during ACC.16 in Chicago, IL. Robert James Siegel, MD, FACC, who trained and worked extensively with Criley, notes the profound impact. Criley has had nationally and internationally on students, paramedics, nurses and physicians at all levels of training. Criley believes that it is “imperative that we teach our students to be good diagnosticians,” and he is proud that his mentees, including Siegel, are carrying the torch of bedside teaching of physicians.

In his spare time, Criley enjoys taking his jet black ’65 Mustang on long road trips – most recently on a 900-mile round trip to the 60th reunion of his medical school class at Stanford.

Clinical Topics: Noninvasive Imaging

Keywords: Cardiology Magazine, ACC Publications, Diagnostic Imaging

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