It’s fitting that Leon L. Haley Jr., MD, chose Jacksonville as the location to continue what’s already been a remarkable career in emergency medicine and academic health care administration.
Haley, a Pittsburgh native, enjoyed growing up near rivers and has a love for maritime cities. For more than 30 years, he’s also maintained a passion for serving diverse patient populations in a fast-paced, urban setting. In addition to those yearnings, he coincidentally spent New Year’s Day 2016 in Jacksonville to support his son at a sporting event. Was that foreshadowing for what would be in store several months later? Haley grinned at that likelihood, happy to now be in Northeast Florida doing what he loves in a new environment.
Haley is vice president for health affairs at the University of Florida and dean of the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville. He comes to UF Health from Grady Memorial Hospital and Emory University in Atlanta, where he was professor of emergency medicine and executive associate dean for clinical affairs. Grady Memorial is Atlanta’s safety-net hospital staffed by both Emory and Morehouse School of Medicine physicians.
He assumed his roles in early January, succeeding Daniel R. Wilson, MD, PhD, who served as dean from 2012 to 2016.
“I’m really happy to be in Jacksonville and at UF Health,” Haley said from his 8th Street office. “I love our commitment to patients who have challenges, whether social or economic. I’m really drawn to our ability to impact this community.”
Coming to UF Health
Haley admits he wasn’t necessarily looking to leave Grady and Emory, where he spent decades rising up the ranks and shaping various health care models, particularly in emergency medicine. He says he was happy and comfortable with his career.
However, Haley was encouraged to consider the open dean’s position at the College of Medicine, where leaders sought a candidate with his skill set and expertise. Haley said he was drawn to the college’s quality faculty, dedication to safety-net care and potential for growth, especially as it pertains to UF Health North.
“We have outstanding people at this institution,” Haley said. “We have great faculty committed to providing excellent care and trainees who are really trying to learn how to be the next generation of health care leaders. This organization also has a great administrative leadership team.”
He’s excited about the educational opportunities, such as strengthening existing residency and fellowship programs, examining the college’s role in medical student education and exploring stronger collaborations with the campus’ nursing and pharmacy programs. He also wants research to be further emphasized.
“What can we contribute to health care and offer in terms of research, discovery and innovation? Because we want to be the leader,” Haley said. “We’re the premier academic health system in this region, and we want to continue to grow that.”
Exploring health care early on
Haley flashes back to his sophomore year of high school, when he tried to dunk a basketball by jumping off a trampoline. He completed the stunt dunk, but severely injured his knee in the process. His meniscus had to be surgically repaired.
“That, to me, was a great way to think about sports medicine,” said Haley, who had already been involved in a health care-related enrichment program. “So I really wanted to be an orthopaedic surgeon at that point.”
Years later — after his first year of medical school at the University of Pittsburgh — Haley participated in a summer program that allowed him to work in a family medicine setting. He spent time with primary care physicians, orthopaedic surgeons in the operating room and various providers in the emergency room.
A light bulb went off in his head. He loved the excitement of emergency medicine.
“I quickly realized that my personality was not set up to be an orthopaedic surgeon. I’m probably too hyperactive to stand still that long in an operating room,” Haley said with a smile. “I gravitated toward the nature of emergency medicine. There are different things happening every day and different types of patient populations. I was on the move a lot.”
Haley went on to complete his residency in emergency medicine at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, serving a year as chief resident. He later became a faculty physician there.
From Detroit to Atlanta
During his time as an emergency medicine trainee and physician in Michigan, Haley became deeply interested in patient volume, throughput and other big-picture aspects of health care. He learned about all of that while earning his master’s degree in health services administration from the University of Michigan.
The experience and education gave him the tools to succeed in Atlanta. Among his achievements at Grady Memorial, Haley successfully implemented a rapid medical evaluation process in its emergency room that decreased the number of patients to see a provider by 45 minutes and reduced the length of stay for the lowest-acuity patients by three hours.
He held several leadership roles, including chief medical officer of the Emory Medical Care Foundation, deputy senior vice president of medical affairs, chief of emergency medicine for Grady Health System and vice chair of emergency medicine at Emory.
“Atlanta was a large part of my professional growth,” Haley said. “It was about growing as an administrator and as a clinician. It’s really who I am today.”
Personal life and pastimes
Haley has a host of interests and passions beyond medicine and academia. He loves football and considers himself a lifelong Pittsburgh Steelers fan. He knows that may disappoint many Jacksonville Jaguars fans, but he says there’s no way he can betray the black and yellow. Aside from watching football, Haley enjoys working out and looks forward to getting back on the golf course.
He is married to Carla Neal-Haley, MD, an internist and pediatrician who runs her own private practice in the Atlanta area. The couple met more than 30 years ago during medical school in Pittsburgh.
With Haley now in Jacksonville and his wife still working in Georgia, you might think the distance would be difficult. But Haley says things aren’t that different because they’re always traveling to see one another and supporting their children’s extracurricular activities.
One of their sons, Grant, is a defensive back on the Penn State University football team. Their other son, Wesley, is a student manager for the University of Southern California football team. Their daughter, Nichelle, a high school student, travels regularly to play in soccer tournaments.
“We spend a lot of time on the road because of the kids,” Haley said. “It’s a constant balance of working, supporting the children and enjoying family time.”
It’s that type of balance that has allowed Haley to explore many personal and professional interests, while excelling in all he does. He’s thrilled about the new challenges that await him in Jacksonville, and UF Health is glad to now have Haley as an integral part of its family.