Renowned expert in orthopedic medicine, founding member of College of Medicine, passes away

William Enneking, M.D., at the UF College of Medicine's 50th anniversary banquet.

William Enneking, M.D., at the UF College of Medicine’s 50th anniversary banquet.

One of the founding leaders of the University of Florida College of Medicine, a renowned expert in the field of orthopedic medicine whose work led to a revolutionary treatment to save limbs during tumor surgery and redefined how physicians communicate about these tumors, passed away Thursday, July 17, at age 88.

Recruited to the fledgling College of Medicine in 1960, William F. Enneking, M.D., served as the first chief of the division of orthopedic medicine, later becoming the founding chair of the department of orthopaedics and rehabilitation.

“He was a major influence on two generations of orthopedic surgeons,” said Mark Scarborough, M.D., the William F. Enneking, William E. Anspach and Orthopaedic Alumni Chair in the College of Medicine department of orthopaedics and rehabilitation, and Enneking’s son-in-law.

Born in Madison, Wisconsin in 1926, Enneking earned his medical degree in 1949 from the University of Wisconsin. During his internship at the University of Colorado, he served as a medical officer in Korea for the U.S. Navy. After returning to the U.S., he completed his residency training in orthopedics at the University of Chicago. It was a connection he made there that would later bring him to UF.

While working at his first academic appointment at the University of Mississippi as the chief of orthopaedic surgery, Enneking was recruited to the fledgling UF College of Medicine in 1960 as part of its new department of surgery. Edward Woodward, M.D., the college’s first chair of the department of surgery, had been a resident with Enneking in Chicago and wanted him to establish an orthopaedics division.

When he arrived in Gainesville, Enneking was the only orthopaedic surgeon in town.

At UF, Enneking quickly became a legend in his field and among the students and residents he taught. He was a pioneer of limb salvage surgery following the removal of bone and soft tissue tumors and was a founding member and past president of the International Limb Salvage Society. His basic and clinical research helped pave the way for bone and muscular tissue banking. He developed the staging system doctors use around the globe to classify the severity of bone and soft-tissue tumors. This system revolutionized how physicians and others in health care communicated about these tumors, said Kayser Enneking, M.D., a professor of anesthesiology at UF and Enneking’s daughter.

“His biggest scientific contribution was establishing the cognitive framework for how physicians talk about muscle tumors, and bone and soft tissue tumors,” Kayser Enneking said. “He defined the basic nomenclature, the terms, so people who had a background in these tumors could have conversations across disciplines because they used the same definitions. It’s called the Enneking Staging System. He really was responsible for making it possible for orthopaedic surgeons around the world to be able to talk about the same thing.

“He carried the University of Florida flag across the world.”

In addition to his legacy at UF and in the field of orthopedic medicine internationally, Enneking was also instrumental in the desegregation of Alachua County’s schools during his two terms as a school board member.

“He was extremely proud of that body of work and enduring legacy,” Kayser Enneking said.

Enneking took pride in his role as an educator, as well. Aside from the students and residents he influenced at UF, he taught students across the globe, presenting a well-known and highly regarded seminar in musculoskeletal pathology. He once joked that he would go teach a course anywhere there was good fishing, another passion of his.

He also took exceptional interest in the careers of other young people he knew, encouraging his children, their friends and the children of his friends to live up to their potential. When Scarborough was 15, his father, a friend of Enneking’s, asked if his teenage son could work in Enneking’s lab. Enneking agreed.

“Mark worked in my Pop’s lab that summer,” Kayser Enneking said. “When he was 15 he knew he wanted to be not just a doctor, he wanted to be an orthopaedic surgeon just like Pop.

“Everyone was incredibly influenced by him.”

During his career, Enneking served as the president of every orthopaedics association in the United States — including the American Orthopaedic Association — as well as several international ones. He earned countless awards, including the college’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. His work as a researcher also earned him the highest honor in orthopaedic medicine research three times, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons’ Kappa Delta Award.

“I remember when he got the phone call about it, he was struck with disbelief and thought it was a prank phone call. It turned out to be true,” Kayser Enneking said.

He also made an indelible mark in the lives of his patients.

“I have followed patients he had in the 70s and 80s and they still remember him fondly, decades later,” Scarborough said. “It’s amazing how much of an impact he had on people.”

A memorial service is planned in his honor at 1 p.m. July 26 at the Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Gainesville. A celebration will be held after the service at the Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine Institute.