Sept. 26, 1996

current issue
archive / search

    Obituary: Chase Kimball, Psychiatry and Medicine

    Chase Patterson Kimball, Professor Emeritus in Psychiatry and Medicine and a leader in the field of biopsychosocial medicine, died at Bethany Terrace Nursing Home in Morton Grove, Ill., on Aug. 24. He was 64.

    Kimball was one of a handful of pioneers in the early 1960s who created a new movement in American medicine that emphasized the importance of a patient's social and emotional status in the manifestation and treatment of disease.

    His early studies of the psychological responses to open-heart surgery demonstrated that more than two-thirds of patients experienced postoperative psychological complications, such as severe depression, that could hamper their recovery, a finding that awakened physicians to the importance of treating the patient, not just the disease.

    "His work has had an enormous impact on how doctors talk to patients," said Bennett Leventhal, Professor and Chairman of Psychiatry. "Dr. Kimball was a key player in the biopsychosocial revolution of the 1960s and 1970s that focused on the social and emotional context of disease, how elements like stress and emotion and the presence or absence of social supports could influence the course of a disease. It meant that doctors had to consider not just symptoms and test results but also pay attention to -- and probe for clues about -- a patient's personal and social life. He convinced us that these were a crucial part of the disease process and could have a profound effect on the success of treatment."

    Kimball was also a pivotal thinker in the emergence of the field of medical ethics, helping to lay the groundwork for the well-known Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University and bringing a new emphasis on ethics and personal interaction to the training of medical students. In the early 1970s, when most medical schools devoted the first two years entirely to laboratory and classroom studies, Kimball developed and taught a course -- still required for all first-year medical students at the University -- that stressed the importance of talking with patients and understanding their personal and emotional as well as medical concerns.

    A frequent lecturer and prolific writer, Kimball was the author or co-author of more than 100 academic papers and book chapters as well as two books, including the standard text in his field, The Biopsychosocial Approach to the Patient (1981). He was also a member or consultant to several national and international committees during the course of his career, including serving as president of the International College of Psychosomatic Medicine.

    Kimball received his B.A. from Brown University in 1954 and his M.D. from the SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn in 1959. He taught at the University of Rochester and at Yale before joining the Chicago faculty in 1972.

    He is survived by his wife, Anne Giddings Kimball of Chicago; four children, Lisa Kimball of Charlottesville, Va., and Allison Kimball, Susan Martinez and James Kimball, all of Chicago; and one grandson.