On August 16, 1968, eight physicians from around Michigan met at the Holiday Inn Lansing at the invitation of John Wiegenstein. They chatted for a while, then signed documents creating the American College of Emergency Physicians. Then they returned home to save lives.
Explore This IssueACEP News: Vol 30 – No 02 – February 2011
While they met, someone was home staffing the emergency department. Then as now, the nation’s emergency departments are always open – someone is always on duty. During that historic meeting in 1968, back home in Ann Arbor, that person was Rudy Douthat.
Rudenz T. Douthat, M.D., is one of the unsung founders of emergency medicine. He was born in West Virginia, not far from where King George III gave his ancestors title to 500,000 acres in Virginia and where Douthat State Park still remains. Rudy went to school at Marshall University and the University of Michigan, and then to West Virginia University to complete a 2-year medical college before finishing his medical degree at Washington University.
After graduation, he trained in surgery at the University of Michigan, then spent 1955-57 in the U.S. Army. After serving his country, Rudy returned to West Virginia and worked at Miner’s Hospital for $800 a month, followed by a private practice in Saline, Mich.
Like many, Rudy found the allure of emergency medicine irresistible. In 1967 he joined Bob Ideson and George Fink in the full-time practice of emergency medicine at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Ann Arbor. At the time, there were six full-time emergency medicine practices in Michigan. (They all used the same billing agent, an accountant who charged the groups 8%. To this day, our founders are still upset that the accountant retired comfortably on her emergency medicine–related earnings.)
Each of the Michigan groups knew the others and constantly compared notes about their developing emergency medicine practices. When John Wiegenstein invited one representative from each group to attend his historic meeting, Bob was out ill, George went to the meeting, and Rudy stayed home to see patients. George signed the ACEP incorporation papers and gained distinction as a founding father. Rudy was the forgotten one.
Interestingly, George did not last long in ACEP. John Wiegenstein put George in charge of the newsletter. In the first issue, George wanted to publish a picture of a statue that said “don’t #^*@ on us.” John did not like it. George would not back down. John prevailed but George resigned and never returned to ACEP.
Of the first few days of ACEP, Rudy’s memory is quite clear. He said John Wiegenstein’s vision was concise: He wanted emergency physicians to be the best physicians anywhere in the first hour of an illness or injury. He also wanted educational opportunities for emergency physicians and for the discipline to become a specialty with academic credibility. It is a testament to our founders that this all has happened in the subsequent 40 years.
Rudy continued his career at St. Joseph’s until 1975, when that original group lost the contract. He then moved to Beaumont, Tex., where he worked until 1992. He also worked part time at Carson Hospital near his vacation home in Lake Tahoe, Nev., from 1990 to 2002 (and was embarrassed when asked to perform monthly screening exams for prostitutes). In 2002, health issues led to his retirement to Fredericksburg, Tex., where he lives today.
Rudy was called “the best EM teacher I ever had” by renowned emergency medicine educator Dr. Greg Henry. At the invitation of ACEP Past President Rick Blum, Rudy recently gave grand rounds at the West Virginia University emergency medicine residency. He also recently attended the 2010 ACEP Scientific Assembly – his first in many years. At the Las Vegas meeting, he renewed his acquaintance with the Wiegenstein family and with fellow ACEP founder John Rupke and his wife Boots.
What were Rudy’s thoughts on the current state of emergency medicine? Scientific Assembly amazed and overwhelmed him. He often referred to the 1960s when he and the original emergency physicians were labeled “renegades.” The size, quality, and prestige of the conference continuously put a large smile on his face. He told stories of a time when the entire meeting was held in one room. That emergency medicine is a respected academic discipline and that emergency physicians are leaders at many medical schools was something only dreamed of in his day.
Rudy said he is very happy that ACEP Past President Angela Gardner was invited to the White House when health care reform was discussed. He remembers that ACEP Past President Bob Williams was excluded from the Clinton White House when “Hillary Care” was being discussed.
Rudy looked around Las Vegas and kept saying “we dreamed of this.” The pride of someone who decided to build something and had the pleasure of seeing the fruits of his labor was evident.
There are many heroes in the history of emergency medicine. Whether they are at the meetings defining the specialty or staying home to save lives, everyone contributes. We have accomplished many great things in a short time. The current generation of emergency physicians is much more talented than any other. The health and safety of our nation depends on us. We are more than up to the challenge. Working together, we can achieve anything. Just ask Rudy. He is living proof that every emergency physician makes a difference.