Richard B. Hornick, M.D., Past Chair of Medicine, Dies at 82

Aug. 14, 2011

Richard B. Hornick, M.D., chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center from 1979 to 1985, died August 9 after a battle with cancer.

A prominent authority on infectious diseases, Dr. Hornick was known as a meticulous researcher and an exceptional leader. He was a founding member of the most prestigious infectious disease organization in the world, the Infectious Disease Society of America. In addition to the respect of his peers, Hornick, a superb teacher, gained the admiration of countless medical students, residents and fellows throughout his career.

“One of Dr. Hornick’s greatest strengths was that he recognized the talents of developing physicians and provided them both the emotional and scientific help they needed to jumpstart their careers,” said Robert F. Betts, M.D.,professor emeritus in the Department of Medicine, Infectious Diseases, who was an assistant professor when Hornick served as chair. “He was an extremely nice guy and always welcomed young professionals into the field with open arms.”

Betts himself is an example of someone who benefitted from Dr. Hornick’s support and desire to see aspiring physicians succeed. While at Rochester, Dr. Hornick was invited to give a talk on bacterial infections in the gastrointestinal tract at a meeting in Germany. Dr. Hornick was unable to attend, but, knowing of Betts’ interest in international infectious disease, asked him to go in his place.

“I was still young at the time and working hard to establish a presence in the field,” noted Betts. “This invitation really boosted me up and helped people begin to recognize me. It was evidence of Dr. Hornick’s interest in me and my career and I appreciated it greatly.”

Born on January 27, 1929 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Dr. Hornick received his bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. He continued on at Hopkins, completing medical school and residency in internal medicine. He then served in the U.S. Army at the Walter Reed Medical Unit, Fort Detrick, before taking the position of chief resident at the University of Maryland Hospital.

Dr. Hornick’s steady rise in rank at Maryland, from assistant instructor to professor of medicine and director of the division of infectious diseases, led to his selection as professor and chair of Medicine at Rochester in 1979. Following his term as chair, Dr. Hornick was appointed dean for Affiliated Hospitals and External Relations for the School of Medicine and Dentistry in 1985. In 1987, after eight years in Rochester, Dr. Hornick joined Orlando Health as vice president of medical education. He stepped down as vice president in 1999, but continued to teach students and treat patients until his death.

According to John Treanor, M.D., chief of the Infectious Diseases Division at the Medical Center, Dr. Hornick was behind some of the groundbreaking studies that established the typical number of bacteria required to cause typhoid fever and infectious diarrhea. His work helped people understand the infectiousness of certain bacterial agents and how likely they are to be transmitted from person to person – critical information for the development of infection control strategies.

Dr. Hornick received many honors and awards throughout his career, including the James D. Bruce Memorial Award from the American College of Physicians, given for distinguished contributions in preventive medicine. He was elected to the prestigious Institute of Medicine, contributing to reports on the health consequences of serving during the Persian Gulf War. He served as an infectious disease consultant to the World Health Organization and the Food and Drug Administration, as well.

In addition to helping found the Infectious Disease Society of America and later serving as its president, Dr. Hornick was active in many other professional societies, including the American Society of Microbiology, American Society of Clinical Investigation and the American Federation for Clinical Research. He was also highly published in his field, contributing more than 300 articles, chapters and reports on a wide range of topics related to infectious disease.

Dr. Hornick is survived by his wife, Susan, and his four children. Anyone wishing to make a charitable donation in his memory can contribute to the Dr. Hornick Memorial Fund through the Orlando Health Foundation, which will support Medical Education at Orlando Health.