MSDC Reflects on September 11, 2001 September 10, 2021

Written by Dan Ein

As the nation reflects on the twentieth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the Medical Society of the District of Columbia would like to share reflections from our leadership. Throughout MSDC’s 200-plus year history, our physician members have healed the community in numerous public and private emergencies, from the Civil War to the current pandemic and all the countless personal emergencies that we do not read about in the news. MSDC salutes the everyday heroism and expertise of the physicians we are honored to serve.    

“As we mark the 20th anniversary of September 11, MSDC not only wants to remember and honor those who were injured or perished, but also the many local healthcare workers who helped heal our community during the attack on our Pentagon and our nation.”
~MSDC President-elect Kirstiaan Nevin, MD


The following is a first person account by past MSDC President Dr. Dan Ein.

The infamous date, September 11, 2001, is indelibly etched in my memory.  I remember exactly how I heard about the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Shanksburg.  The TV set in our Washington Circle office waiting room was tuned to CNN when those first horrific images of the planes flying into the buildings were aired.  The first plane struck and we thought it could have been an accident but, when the second plane hit, I immediately told the staff and then called my wife and told her I thought it must have been Al-Qaeda’s work. 

After the second plane hit, I excused the patient I was seeing and all the other patients in our waiting room and, together with my staff, discussed what we wanted to do.  I also conferred with my wife, who was at her downtown office. By this time, the Pentagon had also been hit. We all decided to ride it out in place because it would be very difficult to get out of the city and it seemed unlikely that any further attacks were coming. So we sheltered in place, first at my office and then we walked, with some trepidation, four blocks to my wife’s office, through the eerily deserted streets of DC.

Together with the entire country, we mourned the people who were lost, celebrated the bravery of first responders, swore to get justice for the victims and prayed that this would never happen again. My wife and I both grew up in New York so we grieved for our native city and we worried about family members. My wife’s family lived and worked in Manhattan. Our son was an undergraduate at Columbia, our daughter was working in mid-town Manhattan and we had nieces working on Wall Street.

It was also the beginning of a multiyear education in and involvement with emergency response efforts. In the days after the attacks, I recommended the formation of an Emergency Preparedness Committee to the Medical Society leadership, which they accepted and asked me to chair, which I did. Dr. Byron Cooper was appointed Vice-Chair. It was clear that MSDC had an obligation and opportunity, as the principle medical organization in the nations’ capital, to gather physician volunteers who would be available to help in the event of future catastrophes, whether natural or man-made, in DC and the region.

This led to much personal growth. The anthrax attacks in October 2001 caused me learn about bioterrorism and to lecture on the topic at a number of international Allergy meetings.

We organized a corps of volunteer physicians from around the city to be available in case of a disaster.  We gave workshops to teach physicians about smallpox and smallpox vaccination.  I participated in practice exercises on emergency responses under the auspices of the DC Department of Health. The DC Hospital Association asked me to chair its NCR-ER Executive Forum. This was a committee of multiple groups across the DMV that had a stake in emergency responses. It included MSDC, DCHA, members of the hospitality industry (restaurants, hotels, etc.), the National Geographic Society, and government agencies representing the Federal government (FBI, DOD), state and local governments (the various surrounding counties from Maryland and Virginia), the Board of Trade, DC Police and so on. That was a fascinating experience for me and afforded the participants a place to communicate with other people and groups that shared a common purpose of civil safety and defense. 

We were fortunate not to suffer any personal losses on that terrible day but we also learned much about ourselves and our world and its inhabitants, perhaps more than we should have needed to know.

Statement on September 11
by Kirstiaan Nevin, MD

As we mark the 20th anniversary of September 11, MSDC not only wants to remember and honor those who were injured or perished, but also the many local healthcare workers who helped heal our community during the attack on our Pentagon and our nation. 

For those of us in practice long enough, we all remember exactly where we were that day. I was in the operating room performing a surgery when the head OR nurse came in to tell us what was happening. I still remember everyone collecting in silence in the doctors lounge watching the events on television. It was surreal to witness. 

At one of our nation’s darkest hours, the MSDC community, along with nurses, first responders and other medical personnel, provided invaluable service. This included direct medical care, rescue and recovery support, and subsequent continued effort to heal both the physical and emotional toll of these attacks. We express our appreciation and recognition of the work done to help all of us through that crisis.