By Kate Hunger
When C.J. Winckler was growing up, first in South Dakota and then Southeast Texas, he had no plans for a career in medicine, but after four years of college, he knew he wasn’t suited for an office job.
“I graduated UT undergrad in psychology on Sunday and started paramedic school on Monday,” he said.
Now deputy medical director of the San Antonio Fire Department and an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Emergency Health Sciences, Winckler, L.P., M.D., recently was honored by the San Antonio Business Journal as a 2019 Health Care Hero in the category of Outstanding Physician/Non-Hospital-Based.
Starting out as an EMT basic, Winckler fell in love with medicine and progressed in his career, becoming a paramedic and training in special operations. Winckler eventually decided to go to medical school, with the dream of one day becoming a medical director. He had prerequisites to complete first while working full-time as a paramedic.
“That was five years of premed while working 24 on, 48 off,” he said.
In his role as deputy medical director, Winckler has been involved in collaborations to advance pre-hospital medicine.
He helped build the program to use whole blood in emergency medical response efforts, and he also was a key organizer of the Law Enforcement Navigation of Emergency Detention Patients program, which diverts patients experiencing behavior or mental crises to a psychiatric emergency room rather than a medical emergency room. The program reaches more than 10,000 people a year in San Antonio and Bexar County and has multiple benefits, including getting patients to the appropriate facilities, decompressing medical emergency rooms and decreasing EMS wall times.
“We truly built that program from scratch,” Winckler said of the many stakeholders involved. “We had to look inward at what we do in our own system.”
Winckler’s efforts have gained attention around the world.
“The teamwork he leads garners international attention on the work of the Department of Emergency Health Sciences and our partnership with the San Antonio Fire Department and our regional trauma care collaborations,” said Department of Emergency Health Sciences Chair and Associate Professor Lance Villers, Ph.D., LP. “Dr. Winckler's commitment epitomizes the role of EMS in an integrated and seamless healthcare system committed to innovative approaches to improve clinical care.”
Winckler is clear about his goals for the future.
“Let’s save more lives,” Winckler said. “Let’s improve health. Let's preserve life, promote safety and wellbeing in our community.”