Erwin Hirsch, MD

Surgery
1959 -1965

ENJOYED THE "UNITED NATIONS" EXPERIENCE

When I first started my surgical residency at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in 1959, the campus was pretty bare. We were really isolated, in an almost rural setting, with nothing around us except Catholic University, the Old Soldiers Home, the reservoir and some orchards. Of course, Washington itself was still a sleepy, little Southern town at the time - there were no traffic jams! I remember driving from the Hospital Center to Arlington in 20 minutes.

It was a college-like atmosphere, with unmarried house staff actually living at the hospital. Most of us bunked two-to-four to a room, like a dorm. If you were really senior and lucky, you might get a room to yourself.

As residents, we were expected to work as many hours as necessary and be grateful for the experience! And what an experience it was! We were surrounded by prominent, older physicians who came from the three founding hospitals - and that intellectual environment definitely influenced our education. Plus we were introduced to a virtual United Nations of residents and fellows. During the late 1950s, new hospitals were springing up all over the country, and U.S. medical schools couldn't turn out graduates fast enough. To fill all the vacancies, the newer hospitals looked overseas, recruiting doctors and nurses from Europe, the Middle East, India. I had never been exposed to so many different people from so many different cultures. We even had two World War II veterans - one from Germany and one from Great Britain - who now operated side-by-side in America.

By the time I left in 1965, the Hospital Center was already expanding with new buildings, as was the community around it. Probably none of that would have happened if MedStar Washington Hospital Center hadn't paved the way.