In Memoriam: George Kraft, MD, 1936-2022
Submitted by Peter Esselman, MD, MPT, FAAPMR and the UW Department of Rehabilitation
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Dr. George Kraft on November 1, 2022. Dr. Kraft served as President of AAPM&R in 1985 and was a titan in the field of MS care, research and education. In his presidential address he challenged us to consider our professional and personal development. He spoke of the components of the practice of physiatry—patient care, advocacy, research, health economics and teaching—that continue to be at our core today. He went on to comment on the elements of personal development: selfcare, family nurturing, social responsibility and spiritual. He stated “A physician cannot be truly superb without tending the self, family, society and spirit.” He demonstrated a commitment to service and was ahead of his time with a focus on well-being and preventing burnout.
Dr. Kraft was born in Columbus, Ohio, on September 27, 1936. He received an AB in economics from Harvard College in 1958 as well as an MD in 1963 and an MS in 1967, both from The Ohio State University. He completed a physical medicine and rehabilitation residency at The Ohio State University in 1967.
Among the many notable honors of his career, he received a Distinguished Clinician Award, Walter J. Zeiter Award and Frank H. Krusen Award from the American Academy of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. He also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in 2011 and Distinguished Academician Award from the Association of Academic Physiatrists. He has the remarkable achievement of having served as the President of the American Academy of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, the Association of Academic Physiatrists, the American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine and as Chair of the American Board of Electrodiagnostic Medicine.
Dr. Kraft served with the Medical Corps of the US Navy from 1967 to 1969. In 1969, he began his long association with the University of Washington, joining the faculty of the UW Department of Rehabilitation Medicine as an assistant professor, and reaching the rank of professor in 1976, a position he held until 2012, when he became a professor emeritus—although he didn’t fully retire until 2020. He also held the position of adjunct professor in the UW Department of Neurology from 1999 to 2012, and was the inaugural Nancy and Buster Alvord Professor of Multiple Sclerosis Research from 2005 to 2015.
Throughout his long career, Dr. Kraft made significant contributions as an educator and a clinician. He received many citations as a top physician, and was recognized by his colleagues and trainees as an exceptional mentor to the next generation of clinicians and psychologists with an interest in MS. As well, he filled important roles on local, national and international committees. While his career had many aspects, Dr. Kraft will be best remembered for his tremendous achievements in multiple sclerosis care. His seminal achievements in MS research changed our understanding of the disease, and transformed care for people with MS.
In the late 70s, when there were very few, if any, dedicated MS centers across the US, Dr. Kraft helped organize the first multi-disciplinary MS Center as a joint venture between the departments of rehabilitation medicine and neurology at the UW. In 1982, he became director of the UW MS Center. Under his leadership, the center made tremendous strides in both understanding MS and improving the care and treatment of people with the disease.
In addition to making a multidisciplinary approach central to the care of patients with MS, Dr. Kraft was also the first to illustrate empirically that fatigue was the most common and, for many, one of the most disabling symptoms of MS. Today, fatigue is accepted as a core clinical measure for MS. He was also one of the first to recognize and write about the way the many symptoms of MS synergistically impact patients.
Dr. Kraft’s prolific research was always rooted in care and concern for his patients. He was noted for his empathy, and his ability to truly listen to his patients. As a mentor and educator, Dr. Kraft tirelessly supported trainees, and has been formative in many junior faculty’s careers who, with his mentorship and guidance, successfully established independence and thriving careers.
Throughout his life, Dr. Kraft had a tremendous impact on MS research and healthcare, and his influence will continue for decades to come. Thanks to his tireless vision, advocacy and empathy, the care and treatment of people with MS has forever changed.
Dr. Kraft was a remarkable scientist, clinician, mentor and person. He will be missed.