By PL Jeter
KISSIMMEE--Hank Hill, MD, recalls a pivotal moment in high school when a guidance counselor recommended bypassing biological research to pursue a medical degree instead. The concept sounded appealing to Hill, yet he wondered about the cost and length of studies. His parents had emigrated from Guyana in the 1950s so their children would be born American citizens. Hill, the first-born, realized that following the path of a doctor was a very big dream indeed.
If Hill had any doubts, they were nullified as a college sophomore on the Brooklyn campus of Long Island University, when his dad was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. When checking the extended family's medical history, he learned a cousin developed breast cancer at an early age. "It reinforced my dedication to become a physician," said Hill.
Two months after enrolling at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Hill learned that a great uncle was a gynecologist. "I didn't know him and hadn't heard about him until then," recalled Hill, who earned his MD in 1991. His residency training was at Harlem Hospital Cancer Center - Presbyterian Medical Center where he met Chairman of Surgery Harold Freeman, MD, known as the godfather of breast navigation. Freeman urged Hill to further his training at MD Anderson Center, at a time in the mid-1990s when surgical residents pursuing oncology were needed for an expanding research program.
Afterward, Hill returned to Harlem Hospital and completed surgical residency training, he joined as attending staff surgeon while also completing surgical critical care and endoscopy. Hill's specialty training in surgical oncology fellowship was completed at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, NY where he focused in gastrointestinal cancer. "Medical school confirmed my passion for surgery; my focus on surgical oncology wasn't until surgical residency training," he said.
After arduous years of training, Hill set his sights on Florida, first stopping in Jacksonville for nearly six years before finding a dream fit at Osceola Regional Medical Center in Kissimmee earlier this year.
"I was on a personal search to identify a location that would allow me to focus on surgical oncology and to also get into education," said Hill. "It turned out that Osceola Regional was looking for such an individual. It was as if there was a calling and I heard it."
At Osceola Care Specialists, an affiliate of Osceola Regional, Hill provides surgical oncology management of myriad solid organ cancers, including breast, colorectal, esophagus, hepatobiliary pancreas, stomach, sarcoma, and skin cancers. Hill will be involved in the new surgical residency program starting in 2017 that resulted from the partnership between Osceola Regional and the University of Central Florida College of Medicine.
Already, Hill has played a key role in helping Osceola Regional earn The Joint Commission's Disease-Specific Certification for its breast, lung and colorectal cancer programs in its oncology unit.
"It's important to know that Osceola Regional is committed to bringing high-quality surgical oncology to this community, where there's been a void for a period of time," noted Hill. "Our cancer patients now can stay at their medical home and still be connected, not only to their family members, but also to their family doctor. Their physicians can be right there nearby, involved in their care."
Hill also serves as Cancer Liaison Physician for the North Florida Division for Commission of Cancer of American College of Surgeons and secretary of the Florida Society of Clinical Oncology.
"Being an officer for the Florida Society of Critical Oncology has allowed me to better understand the challenges of cancer patients in Florida, and to help do something about those challenges," said Hill, of the cancer patient advocacy organization.
Hill is also involved with the Society of Surgical Oncology, Society of Black Academic Surgeons, National Medical Association and Orange County Medical Society. A recent appointment: member of the American Cancer Society Volunteer Leadership Board.
He developed Hill Charitable Foundation with his brother who is in the finance industry. They hope to launch it in 2017 "to reduce medical disparities in a variety of ways that are taken for granted here."
"The foundation will also look at economic development, disaster relief, agricultural innovation and other programs," he added.
For pleasure, Hill heads to the tennis court. "It's been an integral part of my life since my father exposed me to the game at age 11," he said. "The sport challenges your individual patience, persistence and concentration while also maintaining or increasing your fitness level. It teaches you to deal with adversities, keep pursuing excellence and stay the course."