Dr. William A. Altemeier was a native of Cincinnati who received his premedical and medical education at the University of Cincinnati, earning his bachelor's degree in 1930 and his medical degree in 1933. After an internship at the Cincinnati General Hospital, he served as chief surgical resident at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
After earning his M.S. degree from the Graduate School of the University of Michigan, he returned to the University of Cincinnati in 1940 as Instructor of Surgery. That same year, he founded the Surgical Research Bacteriology Laboratory. He also founded the Burn and Wound Study Unit in 1942, the Center for the Comprehensive Clinical Study of Trauma in 1967, and the Surgical Research Unit in 1973. In recognition of his research work and that of his associates, he was able to attract one of the three Shriners Burn Institutes to Cincinnati in 1963.
Dr. Altemeier became Assistant Professor of Surgery at the University of Cincinnati Medical School in 1946 and served as the fourth Christian R. Holmes Professor of Surgery and Chairman of the Department of Surgery from 1952 to 1978. He expanded the Department with a focus on microbiology and intra-abdominal infections, establishing the department as a pioneering center for surgical infectious disease. He also served as director of surgical services at the Cincinnati General Hospital, and surgeon-in-chief at Children's and Holmes Hospitals.
Dr. Altemeier helped to found the Surgical Infection Society and served as President. Dr. Altemeier also served as President of the American Surgical Association, the Central Surgical Association, the Society of Clinical Surgery, the Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract, the Henry Ford Hospital Medical Association and the Cincinnati Surgical Society. He has served as Vice President of the Western Surgical Association, the Pan-Pacific Surgical Association, and the International Surgical Society. He was Vice-Chairman of the American Board of Surgery, the Committee on Hospital-Acquired Infections of the American College of Surgeons, and the Editorial Committee that developed the Manual on Control of Infection in Surgical Patients.
In 1978, Dr. William A. Altemeier became the President of the American College of Surgeons. The College also recognized him with the Distinguished Service Award in 1975, and the Royal College of Surgeons of England elected him an Honorary Fellow in 1977. The American Burn Association honored him with the Harvey Allen Distinguished Service Award in 1978, and the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh made him an Honorary Fellow in 1979. He was also presented the First Distinguished Alumnus Award by Henry Ford Hospital.