Joan L. Venes, MD
JOAN VENES was born on June 27, 1935 in Brooklyn, New York. As a first generation American growing up in a blue collar neighborhood, Joan Venes believed that women did not become doctors. If they entered the medical field at all it was in nursing. The first in her neighborhood to go to college, she graduated with a degree in nursing in 1956. Two years later she began taking the courses which would allow her to enter medical school. Her work as weekend charge nurse in a busy emergency room, in addition to paying for her medical school education, proved invaluable in providing first hand experience in a wide variety of both medical and surgical emergencies, and gave her a perspective on the psychological impact of acute and sometimes devastating illness on both patient and family.
After graduating magna cum laude from the State University of New York, Downstate Medical Center in 1966, Dr. Venes began a surgical internship at Yale-New Haven Hospital fully intending to pursue a career in pediatric orthopedics. However, the following year during a residency at Long Island Jewish Hospital, a young boy was admitted with hydrocephalus and a shunt malfunction. He was a top student with an engaging personality and the complaint of headache. Later that day he died abruptly and unexpectedly. Dr. Mel Greenberg did his own autopsy and she witnessed his frustration as the cause of death became apparent-across the venous end of the catheter was a filmy membrane. It was a turning point for Dr. Venes and with the enthusiasm of youth she became firmly committed to working to prevent such tragedies.
The following year was spent as a fellow in the neurosurgical laboratory of Dr. Collins at Yale. He had agreed to a trial period during which she would cover vacations and occasional weekends, attend conferences and rounds and, in general, prove able to succeed in a residency as rigorous and demanding as neurosurgery. Following residency she joined the faculty at Yale and remained there until 1978 when she left to join a private practice group in Dallas. In 1973 she was a van Wagenen fellow and travelled to a number of centers to learn more about the management of intracranial pressure and the techniques of intracranial pressure monitoring. It was an experience which undergirded much of her early clinical research in that area.
Although in private practice, she maintained an active interest in the development of pediatric neurosurgery as a subspecialty. She was a charter member of the American Society of Pediatric Neurosurgery (ASPEN) and later served a term as Secretary. In 1981 she was elected Chairman of the Pediatric Section of the AANS and during that time served as Chairman of the subcommittee on Optimal Management of Congenital Lesions. In 1983, after returning to the academic community at the University of Michigan, she served as Chairman of the ad hoc Committee on Special Certification for Pediatric Neurosurgery (ASPEN).
As the years passed, late effects of a back injury sustained in her early 20s made meeting the demands of a busy clinic and operating schedule increasingly difficult. She was awarded a Pew Doctoral fellowship which allowed her to become a candidate for a Dr.P.H. in Health Policy while winding down her clinical practice. In 1990, Dr. Venes became a Robert Wood Johnson fellow in Health Policy working for Senator John Heinz. His untimely death led her to complete the fellowship working on guidelines development at the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research. Unsuccessful in the search for a position which would allow her to use her experience both as a clinician-researcher and policy analyst, Dr. Venes retired in 1993 to sunny California where she is currently working on a book.
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