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Thomas Hickernell, MD
Biography

Thomas, son of Craig and Mary Anne Hickernell, was born here at Babies’ Hospital (before there was CHONY) and raised in Pelham, NY. Tom is the oldest of four children, with three younger sisters: Katherine, Laura, and Sarah. After graduating from Pelham Memorial High School, Tom matriculated at Union College in Schenectady, NY after being recruited by the football team. He began college by enrolling in Engineering 101 and playing for the Union College Dutchmen Football team, but after one trimester he decided his time and talents were better spent elsewhere. He switched from engineering to biochemistry, and from football to a fraternity, and never looked back.

After graduating from Union College magna cum laude, Tom considered applying to graduate school to earn a PhD in biochemistry. He was interested in cancer and genetics research and possibly drug development, but wanted to gain more experience in the field before choosing his path. Ultimately, he was hired as a research laboratory technician in the molecular genetics lab of Fred Alt, PhD at Harvard Medical School. When Tom and Fred weren’t sneaking out of the lab to play pickup basketball in the medical student gym, Tom worked with genetically engineered mice to help elucidate novel mechanisms of DNA-damage repair. The manuscripts from these efforts were eventually published twice in Nature and in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences as well. Excited by the lab’s successes, but frustrated by the often long journey of translating basic scientific findings into practical clinical applications, Tom decided to take the MCAT and apply to medical school to further his education. Luckily, he had already taken all of the prerequisite classes, largely by coincidence.

After promising Columbia’s Dean Frantz that he would try out for the rugby team, Tom was granted admission to the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 2008. He briefly kept his rugby promise to Dean Frantz, but after he was convinced that tackling like a football player in rugby would quickly lead to serious paralyzing injuries, Tom hung up his old football cleats for good. Tom sought out operating room experience early on in medical school, and as fate would have it, the first surgery he ever saw was a total hip replacement performed by Dr. Jeff Geller. Tom was hooked, and Dr. Geller was doomed to work with him for at least the next ten years of his life.

Tom matched into his first choice for residency, a 6-year residency track working on translational research with Dr. Francis Lee at Columbia Orthopedics. Unfortunately, tragedy struck shortly thereafter, when Tom was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia on the very day he finished his medical school graduation requirements. Rather than studying bone biology and musculoskeletal tumors, his initial post-doctorate research year was spent mostly receiving chemotherapy and beating his own cancer. During that time, his friends and family, besides offering their endless support, also helped him raise over $100,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, for which Tom will be eternally proud and grateful. Thankfully, he was able to start his 5-year clinical orthopedics training track on schedule.

Tom wishes to thank his wife Dana, his friends and family, and his NYOH family for getting him through the past 6 years. He is looking forward to continuing his medical training with an eleventh year at Columbia, pursuing a fellowship in adult hip and knee reconstruction.

What is your favorite bone?
Femur. Biggest bone, doubles as a war club when excised
What's the best place you have traveled since your residency started?
Havana, Cuba; Hawaii; Turks and Caicos; Englewood, NJ
Where are you from?
Pelham, NY
Favorite restaurant in NYC?
Peter Luger's
Favorite activity outside of work?
5th amendment privilege
Dream concert (even if band not together or alive)?
Backstreet Boys
Best Pandora station for the OR?
Summer Hits of the 90s
Favorite night float snack?
Yogurt
What is your spirit animal?
Ox

 

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