Commentary: What it Was Like to be a Medical Resident During Hahnemann’s Closure

One day, John Williamson and Madison Crutcher were moving in together. The next, their worlds were turned upside down.

In late June 2019, my girlfriend Madison Crutcher and I moved in together in Philadelphia’s Fairmount section as we both continued our medical residencies at Hahnemann University Hospital. We hoped it would be an exciting new chapter in our relationship.

Two days later, Hahnemann announced it was closing, throwing our future into question. That morning, I was working, going case to case with my attending physician. People were crying in the operating room round us as they tried to absorb the news. Madison did not have cases that day, so she was free to read everything that was coming out about the closure: emails, news articles, social media, texts from friends and family. She quickly started to feel like she was drowning in it.

Between cases, we anxiously texted each other – What would happen to Hahnemann’s residency program? Would we have to give up our new apartment? Move to different cities?

As soon as I was done with cases, I joined Madison in reaching out to whatever contacts we had, up and down the East Coast to figure out where we could land. We agreed to try to stay together, whether that meant staggering our training or dealing with longer commutes.

Thankfully, many hospitals were interested in us. We interviewed at Cooper University Health Care and Jefferson Health within a week, and we both had offers shortly thereafter. We wanted to ensure we joined institutions with high enough surgical volumes that they could absorb additional surgery residents without diminishing the quality of training. I joined Cooper and Madison went to Jefferson, both programs that were interested in growing even before the news broke, they were so busy.

From the start, Cooper made it clear to me that I was now one of their own. When rumors circulated that funding for our training might be uncertain or tied up in legal battles for years to come, my program director, Dr. Michael Kwiatt, sent an unprompted email assuring me that I would have a place at Cooper. Dr. Karen Chojnacki, Madison’s program director, arranged for her to rotate at their hospital a week before Hahnemann formally released our funding, so that she could use time that would otherwise have been lost. We only get five years to learn how to operate; every week matters.

It was an amazing relief to be able to stay together and to remain in Greater Philadelphia to finish our medical training. Although it was a brutally uncertain week, it was only a week, and for that, we are eternally grateful. We had classmates who endured multiple weeks before finding a new home to train, several of whom ended up having to move themselves and their families to continue, albeit at excellent programs. And despite dark rumors and high level wheeling and dealing with resident funding, it was released appropriately and we were eventually able to move to new programs without a hitch.

It was clear from the time we joined Hahnemann that it did not have the most resources, but as interns, we learned to live with that, and I do think that in some ways it helped our training, as we were forced to do more with less. Having gone through this process, I am still proud to be a general surgery resident, and if anything, this situation has redoubled my commitment to medicine.

In the time since we started working at our new hospitals, we have seen in the news that both Jefferson and Cooper have joined a coalition with four others—Christiana Care, Einstein, Main Line Health and Temple—to bid on the permanent residency slots formerly at Hahnemann to keep these more than 550 training positions in the region. I assume this bid for funding for training slots will potentially continue for months or even years.

To us, it’s already been made clear who has the capacity and need to take on these additional residency positions – the programs that jumped at the opportunity to take on more residents to train, both for the residents, their own busy programs, and the patients themselves.

Philadelphia needs the extra hands to care for the community. We are relieved, grateful and proud that ours are among them.

Dr. John Williamson is now a research/general surgery resident at Cooper University Health Care and Dr. Madison Crutcher is now a general surgery resident at Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health.

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