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Reed M. Gardner, Ph.D.

Dr. Reed M. Gardner: An Appreciation

Reed Gardner, Ph.D.
1937 – 2020, Reed Gardner, Ph.D.

“I was just a shepherd boy,” was how Dr. Reed Gardner, in typically modest fashion, described his youth in rural southern Utah. Growing up in St. George, the son of a sheep rancher, Dr. Gardner learned the value of self-reliance, perseverance, and ingenuity. Dr. Gardner’s academic career began ordinarily enough with a degree awarded to him by the University of Utah in electrical engineering in 1960. In the early nineteen-sixties, computers were a rare sight on a college campus, but by the time of Dr. Gardner’s graduation, the Engineering School had acquired one and its presence was key in the creation of a professional relationship which in turn set in motion the forging of a new tool that became an indispensable instrument in the practice of medicine.

Dr. Gardner recalled how one afternoon one of his engineering professors, Robert Stephenson, mentioned that a one of his colleagues, Homer Warner, a cardiologist working at Latter Day Saints Hospital was exploring novel ways to use a computer to assist in the making of medical diagnoses: “You should meet with him.” It is no understatement to say that suggestion was the cardinal moment that gave rise to the academic discipline of biomedical informatics.

In the decades that followed, the professional partnership that grew from that initial meeting saw the development of many applications used to support clinical decision making, most notably, the HELP System and its logical extension, the electronic health record. Dr. Alan Morris, who ran an intensive care unit at LDS Hospital remembered how Dr. Gardner would accompany him on rounds: “I said to Reed, what we really could use is a way to examine and present these data.” Dr. Gardner, who always regarded such occasions as “so what” moments put his talent for problem-solving to the task. “Take a look at this,” joining Dr. Morris a couple of days later, “and see if this program meets your needs.”

Dr. Gardner’s work has been honored by his peers worldwide. Dr. Gardner authored hundreds of professional papers, was a contributor to many scholarly monographs, served on editorial boards as well as an editor-in-chief and President of the American Medical Informatics Association. To all who had the privilege of knowing him, Dr. Gardner is best remembered as genuinely self-effacing human being. Dr. Warner, whom Dr. Gardner succeeded as Chair of the Department of Biomedical Informatics in 1996, spoke of Dr. Gardner’s career achievements when the latter received the 2005 Morris F. Collen Award of Excellence: “He’s done a tremendous job and many of his students have gone on to achieve fame in their own right and Reed’s probably as proud of them as any other accomplishment and he should be because he’s made a tremendous contribution that will be around long after he’s gone.” The shepherd boy never forgot his humble beginnings and was just as happy mending a broken pipe as he was computerizing an intensive care unit.

Read his obituary