April 06, 2010
For as long as he can remember, Matthew J. Hayes, M.D., Ph.D.
'57C challenged the status quo, a dominant characteristic of his
personality that would ultimately lead him to become the driving
force behind sweeping changes in the field of emergency
"I was always rebellious and inquisitive," he recalled. "I
questioned everything, and never accepted anything at face value. I
had to look behind everything and find things out for
Hayes spent his first two years at St. John's University on Lewis
Ave., after which he completed his undergraduate studies at the new
Hillcrest campus in Queens. As a science major, however, he faced
the reality of having to travel back and forth between the two
locations to finish his coursework. "Those of us who were majoring
in any of the sciences took the lecture portion of our classes in
Queens, but our laboratories were still located in Brooklyn, so we
had to hustle back there literally every day for that part of our
classes. It was really tough, but we did what we had to do."
After graduation, Hayes spent time in the Army and was stationed in
Germany, where he decided to remain after discharge and to pursue a
medical degree. It was at that point that he discovered an affinity
for emergency medicine.
"I really loved the emergency room," he said. "The thrill and
challenge captivated me so much that I ended up devoting my career
to it. I also realized early on that there was a real need to
establish emergency medicine as its own medical specialty. Patients
were showing up in emergency rooms and there was no specialist on
hand to treat their individual conditions. There was a real
mismatch between the medical emergencies that the patients were
coming in with and the resources and personnel available to treat
them. That had to change."
After a lengthy confrontation during the late 1960s and early
1970s with the medical establishment over the need to establish a
specialty in emergency medicine, Hayes finally saw his dream become
reality. "I ended up being part of the formation of the American
College of Emergency Physicians. When we adopted the first national
constitution, there were only 19 people present from across the
entire United States. I guess you can say that we weren't the most
popular people in the medical community back then."
In 1971 he organized, inaugurated and served as the first President
of the Washington State Chapter of the American College of
Emergency Physicians, one of the 17 newly formed state
The practice of medicine has changed greatly since those days, and
he is proud of what he has accomplished, noting that, "…today, in
the United States, we have the best emergency medical system in the
world, from our largest cities to the smallest, most remote
Looking back on his time at St. John's, Hayes credits Rev. John
Newman, C.M., who at the time was Dean of St. John's College of
Liberal Arts and Sciences, for giving him an opportunity and
keeping him on track during his student days. "Fr. Newman literally
turned my life around," he said. "I had a rather checkered history
in high school, but he personally accepted me into the University
and gave me the scholarship assistance I needed to give up my job
and concentrate entirely on my studies. He made it clear that he
was looking over my shoulder, and so I had no choice but to toe the
line and succeed."
Hayes and his wife Mary Beth are members of The Loughlin Society
and The McCallen Society. They also support the University through
the establishment of The Mary Beth and Matthew Hayes "Spirit of
Inquiry" Endowed Scholarship for academically qualified and
deserving incoming freshmen. "I was given a unique chance by St.
John's, and that's what I'm trying to repay," he said. "I believe
in young people because someone believed in me."
Now retired from the active practice of medicine, he and Mary
Beth live in North Carolina, where he spends his time hiking and
crafting unique pieces of furniture in his at-home woodworking
shop. "I'm self-taught as a woodworker," he noted. "I've always
enjoyed a challenge and woodworking is a way for me to deal with
things I haven't come across before, which is really what I did
during my career in emergency medicine. I give away many of
the pieces that I create, because I'm really more interested in the
process than in the end result."
Hayes offers simple advice to other members of his St. John's
family, particularly the students who may one day follow in his
footsteps. "Believe in yourself and take every opportunity to
challenge yourself. Do not settle for mediocrity. The University
taught me that there's a certain discipline that's needed if you're
going to question the world and find suitable answers to things
that need to be addressed and changed, and that's stayed with me
for my entire life. St. John's gave me the tools to solve anything,
and for that I'll always be grateful."