Renowned UCSF anesthesiologist Samuel Hughes dies at 61

By Kristen Bole

Samuel C. Hughes, MD, a professor of anesthesia and perioperative care at UCSF and an attending physician at San Francisco General Hospital Medical Center, died Jan. 20 after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 61.

Hughes was a leading international figure in obstetrical anesthesia who provided compassionate care to countless underserved patients and was the epitome of the “gentleman scholar,” according to Sue Carlisle, MD, PhD, associate dean for San Francisco General and a professor in the UCSF School of Medicine.

“Dr. Hughes was highly respected by all at San Francisco General for his patient care, his scholarly work and his interactions with colleagues,” Carlisle said. “He was a master teacher who always gave his full attention to the task at hand. He will be greatly missed.”

A member of the UCSF faculty since 1980, Hughes also served as a voice of reason in the early days of the AIDS crisis, when hysteria threatened the ability of at-risk populations to receive surgical treatment, said Julie Gerberding, MD, who has known Hughes since their work together at that time.

“Dr. Hughes set the highest standard for integrity and professional ethics,” said Gerberding, who is now director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “His commitment to the safe care of people with HIV brought sanity to the operating room in an era when some clinicians were too frightened to take care of infected patients.”

Hughes was born and raised in Wilmington, Del. He received his undergraduate education at the University of New Hampshire and served in the U.S. Army in Belgium. A graduate of Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, Hughes received his clinical training in anesthesiology at New York University Medical Center.

He studied under the mentorship of Sol Shnider, MD, a pioneer in obstetrical anesthesia at UCSF, then joined the UCSF faculty in 1980 and remained on staff until his death. Hughes studied the clinical use of peridural opioids for labor and postoperative analgesia, the toxicity of local anesthetics, neurobehavioral changes of maternal analgesics on the newborn, and placental transfer of a variety of anesthetics and other agents.

During his esteemed career, Hughes co-edited a major textbook in his field, “Anesthesia for Obstetrics,” and wrote more than 20 instructive book chapters, 40 original scientific articles and editorials. He was editor of the “International Journal of Obstetric Anesthesia,” supervised 30 fellows and trained hundreds of residents in anesthesia and obstetrics.

Hughes served as president of the Society for Obstetrical Anesthesia and Perinatology, which plans to honor him this year with a distinguished service award at its annual meeting, and also served on numerous committees for San Francisco General, UCSF Medical Center, community service organizations and national societies.

During his 28-year career, Hughes was a highly sought lecturer; he presented hundreds of lectures nationally and internationally and was a visiting professor at 25 renowned global medical institutions.

Hughes was an enthusiastic patron and supporter of the arts in San Francisco, especially the opera and ballet, and a passionate, award-winning gardener. He enjoyed the city’s haute cuisine and always appreciated a particularly fine wine. He traveled extensively, both professionally and for his own enjoyment.

Hughes is survived by his sister Lillian Crispin and her husband Ed; his sister Elaine Singleton and husband David; his brother George Hughes and wife Judy; nieces, nephews, grandnieces and nephews, and many dear friends throughout the world. Donations can be made to Sam’s Garden, The Wellness Community-Delaware, 4801 Lancaster Pike, Wilmington, Delaware 19807, or to a charity of choice. A celebration of his life is being planned. As details become available, they will be posted at

San Francisco General Hospital ranks among the finest public hospitals in the United States, with the mission of providing humanistic, cost-effective and culturally competent care to an international community of patients, regardless of their ability to pay. Located at the foot of Potrero Hill in the San Francisco Mission District, the hospital has been managed through a joint agreement between the San Francisco Department of Public Health and UCSF since 1872. UCSF faculty from all four of its schools—dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy—provide round-the-clock trauma and emergency care, offer outpatient treatment and community programs, conduct research and teach at SFGH. For more information on SFGH, visit