Honoring Dr. Abram Hostetter
Dr. Abram Hostetter was an integral part of the formation of what is now the Physicians’ Health Program of the Foundation of the Pennsylvania Medical Society. Dr. Hostetter died on January 10, 2021, but his legacy will live on. The Foundation mourns the loss of an incredible physician who had a great impact on many.
Dr. Abram Hostetter ran a successful psychiatry practice in Hershey for more than 30 years. He also served as chair of the Foundation of the Pennsylvania Medical Society Board of Trustees from 1986 to 2002.
“Dr. Abe Hostetter was one of the original founders of the Impaired Physician’s Committee (now the Physicians’ Health Program) in the 1970s, and as a psychiatrist, was recognized as the man to see for physician addiction problems in the central part of Pennsylvania,” said Dr. Raymond Truex Jr., PHP medical director.
Dr. Hostetter was of Mennonite heritage and attended Lancaster Mennonite School. His background and values greatly influenced his approach to medicine.
“When I joined the Board in 1998, at first I was intimidated by Abe, who I perceived as a stern Dutchman,” Dr. Truex said. “But I soon came to understand him as a most approachable, wise, kind and thoughtful individual. Later, when I assumed the chair he once occupied, he became a supporter and mentor, and I will be forever grateful for his encouragement.”
Dr. Greg Gable, executive director of the healthcare professionals program at Caron Treatment Center, served as director of the PHP for 24 years. He also found Hostetter’s character perfectly suited for his work.
“He was very balanced and low key in his presentation,” Dr. Gable said. “Abe had a set of values that came from his family background that really showed through in his professional work. He was someone who wouldn’t rush to judgement. He was someone that would be open to listening for information.”
Because of his demeanor, he developed a reputation for being a trustworthy source for struggling physicians.
“It was not uncommon for physicians or other health professionals who were having psychiatric or emotional issues to seek out Abram Hostetter for private treatment,” Dr. Gable said.
The Impaired Physician’s Committee began as a volunteer effort, with monthly meetings to review calls made by the public to an answering machine reporting concerns about particular physicians. Dr. Gable said the committee members would reach out to the individuals. Dr. Hostetter had the assistance of the late Dr. J. Preston Hoyle, the late Dr. Abraham J. Twerski and the late Dr. Jasper Chen See.
Through the navigation of many bumps in the road, Dr. Hostetter ensured the success of what is now the Physicians’ Health Program (PHP).
“Abe was a big reason why the PHP was founded, and he was a big reason why it survived in the early years,” Dr. Gable said. “As a young man in my mid-30s, it was really reassuring for me to have Dr. Hostetter as someone we could look to for leadership and stability.”
Because of declining medical society membership and, in turn, declining revenue, support for physician health programs has waned over the years. If programs have survived, in many cases, it’s because they have cut ties with medical societies and reestablished in other administrative settings with other funding streams.
“Pennsylvania is one of the few exceptions to this trend,” Dr. Gable said. “That we were able to remain an integral part of the medical society is in large part due to Abe’s efforts, as well as J. Preston Hoyle.”
The Physicians’ Health Program’s connection to the Pennsylvania Medical Society is important for physicians seeking help.
“When a program like the PHP reaches out to a physician, the fact that you’re calling from the medical society is a huge factor in establishing credibility,” Dr. Gable said. “That person can have trust in the program, and their institution or hospital system can have trust in the whole intervention and monitoring process. The direct connection to the medical society was a huge advantage in developing those relationships.”
The success of the Physicians’ Health Program today – a program which is looked upon as an example for others across the country – is in large part due to the work of Dr. Abram Hostetter.
“The Physician’s Health Program would not be the efficient and successful organization it is today, were it not for the historical efforts of Dr. Hostetter,” Dr. Truex said. “We mourn his passing but recognize his immense contribution in the lives of thousands of recovering Pennsylvania physicians.”