What It Was Like To Be A Medical Resident During Hahnemann’s Closure

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

This is one commentary in a series of occasional first-person accounts of the effects of Hahnemann University Hospital’s closure in Philadelphia. To view other commentaries, click here.

In late June 2019, my boyfriend John Williamson 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.

A man and woman standing together outside in front of flagsTwo days later, Hahnemann announced it was closing, throwing our future into question. That morning, John was working, going case to case with his attending physician. People were crying in the operating room around him as they tried to absorb the news. I did not have cases that day, so I read everything about the closure: emails, news articles, social media posts, and texts from friends and family. It quickly started to feel like I was drowning in information.

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?

Within minutes of the announcement, I started scrambling, tapping into our professional networks up and down the East Coast to figure out where we could land. We were going 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 Jefferson Health and Cooper University Health Care the next 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 Jefferson and John went to Cooper, where he started in a research role. Both programs were so busy that they were interested in growing even before the Hahnemann news broke.

From the start, Jefferson made it clear to me that I was now one of their own. In fact, Dr. Karen Chojnacki, Jefferson’s program director for general surgery and vice chair of education, quickly arranged for a visit of the hospital so that I could start becoming familiar with my new institution and use time that would otherwise have been lost. We only get five years to learn how to operate; every week matters. When rumors circulated that funding for our training might be uncertain or tied up in legal battles, John’s program director, Dr. Michael Kwiatt, emailed assurance that he would have a place at Cooper and could rest easy.

A man and woman sitting togetherIt 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 and scary 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, including several who ended up having to move themselves and their families to continue, albeit at excellent programs. And even though we received offers very quickly, our federal funding was not released for a few more weeks, adding more bumps in this unprecedented rollercoaster ride.

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 in some ways it helped our training as we did 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 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.

The patients who are being displaced from Hahnemann are staying in Philadelphia, so it makes sense that the residency positions would too, especially among those hospitals that have absorbed the majority of former Hahnemann patients and residents. To us, it is clear who has the capacity and need to take on these additional residency positions. It’s the programs that jumped at the opportunity to take on more residents—to train the residents, to help staff their busy programs and, most importantly, to care for patients.

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

Dr. Madison Crutcher and Dr. John Williamson are both former Hahnemann University Hospital medical residents. She is now a general surgery resident at Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health; he is now a general surgery resident at Cooper University Health Care.

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