In 1968, William Haeck, MD, hit Florida’s pavement, going door to door to organize and develop EM as a state specialty.
One of the youngest emergency physicians in the small cadre of leaders who organized the specialty was William Haeck, MD. Handsome, with a big swathe of blonde hair and an engaging personality, Haeck grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and was first exposed to emergency departments (EDs) as a boy when his surgeon father parked him there while he made rounds at Butterworth Hospital. Haeck went to Northwestern University for medical school and did ED rotations at the busy, intern-run Cook County Hospital. He entered the military as a physician and was stationed in Savannah, Georgia where he moonlighted in rural EDs. He then decided he wanted to do an Ob/Gyn residency and moved to Jacksonville, Florida. Haeck soon found that he liked moonlighting in EDs more than training in Ob/Gyn. Chance had it that an obstetrician he knew had a contract to staff the ED in a Jacksonville Beach hospital, and asked Haeck if he wanted to take it over. Against the wishes of his father, in 1967 Haeck quit his residency and became an ED director. He was 28 years old. Haeck remembered people telling him: “That can’t be a career, that’s only something you do if you can’t do anything else .”
A year later Haeck became aware that some emergency physicians in his native state of Michigan were organizing the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). A national meeting was held in November 1968 in Arlington, Virginia, and Haeck was one of 30 or so physicians who attended – and likely the youngest. Haeck was a founding Board member of ACEP, and caught the fever to further organize and expand the field of emergency medicine. He was Chair of the ACEP Membership Committee, and took the cause to the state of Florida, where he wanted to form a state chapter. Haeck got the list of hospitals in Florida and mailed materials about ACEP to all the EDs in the state. He divided the state into regional areas, and whenever he had a couple days off he set out from Jacksonville in “an old Buick convertible” to call on EDs “cold turkey” and solicit new members for ACEP. Haeck was very successful as traveling salesman, signing up about 100 new members by 1970 .
Haeck went on to become ACEP President in 1975, and was a key player in developing EM as a specialty. He was also a strong proponent of improved EMS training. He appealed to the Florida Cabinet, noting that at that time barbers in Florida were required to have hundreds of hours of training, but EMS personnel had but a few hours. Haeck went on to receive a major grant to organize and develop EMS in the state of Florida and nationally. Later in his career Haeck developed a strong interest in addiction medicine and his leadership skills were again recognized as he became the President of the Florida chapter of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. This then spawned an interest in correctional medicine, and Haeck achieved the leadership hat trick of becoming the Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare.
Like many of the early leaders in emergency medicine, Bill Haeck had tremendous energy and ambition, a restless need to organize and lead others, and a belief that these efforts would help patients as well as physicians. Haeck died in 2008, leaving behind a legacy that few in medicine can rival.
- Interview of William Haeck, MD, by Brian Zink, Boca Raton, Florida, 2003
Dr. Zink is author of Anyone, Anything, Anytime – A History of Emergency Medicine. (Mosby Elsevier, 2006).