Dr. David Hirsch '94: My Life Was Molded Because of Cornell & Wrestling
Updated: Jul 13, 2022
In March, former NCAA champion Dr. David Hirsch posted a photo from the arena at the 2022 National Championships with a caption reading, “A good place to look for future health care leaders.”
Hirsch is without question a current health care leader as the Senior Vice President of Dental Medicine for Northwell Health and an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon.
Northwell Health is the largest health system in New York, with about 80,000 employees. Hirsch, a 1994 Cornell graduate, runs Northwell’s Oral and Maxillofacial and Dental Medicine departments across 19 hospitals.
That’s not all. He also performs between 300-350 major operations per year, while also teaching medical students and residents.
He credits his college experience for helping to put him in his current position.
“Wrestling and Cornell taught me how to be resilient and how to be gritty when I need to be,” he said. “My whole life was molded because of going to Cornell and my participation in wrestling. My experience, including athletics and academics, really helped me succeed in my life. When it’s time to get work done or we have a meeting and things get contentious, people say we know you’re not giving up because you’re a wrestler.”
Hirsch got a relatively late start in the sport, beginning as a high school freshman.
“I was a fairly athletic kid, but I was tiny,” he said. “I was just too small for basketball or football. A friend told me about wrestling and I didn’t know anything about it, but I figured I would try.”
He immediately liked it, wrestled year-round and saw improvement. As a 12th grader, he captured a New York State championship.
Hirsch entered Cornell as a 118-pound recruit but grew and moved up to 126. “When I went up to 126, I had a lot of catching up to do. I needed to get stronger and still had a pretty steep learning curve in wrestling,” he said. “I felt like I kept getting incrementally better because I was still pretty new to the sport and I was thrust into a room with a lot of good wrestlers.”
When he arrived in Ithaca, Cornell hadn’t had an NCAA champion in 30 years (Dave Auble). That objective wasn’t initially on Hirsch’s mind either.
“We were getting good as team and had some sporadic All-Americans,” Hirsch said. “My goal was to be an All-American. It really didn’t cross my mind that I could be a national champ until my junior year when I became an All-American [5th place] I started thinking - what’s the next step?”
The answer: the top of the podium. In his final campaign, Hirsch went 41-3 with 25 bonus point victories. He earned his third EIWA championship and picked up four straight wins at the NCAAs to become a National Champion. He finished his outstanding career 112-17, a three-time EIWA winner (four-time placer), and two-time All-American.
During his time in Ithaca, Hirsch completed a business degree with a health sciences minor, ready to attend dental school.
However, after graduation from dental school, Hirsch realized he hadn't quite found his desired profession yet. He wanted to be an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, so it was time for medical school.
“Not having to juggle athletics and academics, life was easier,” Hirsch said. “Wrestlers are disciplined. Sitting down and focusing on school was never a problem. Dental school and med school weren’t as challenging as Cornell.”
Hirsch has continued tackling challenging schedules. While he’s busy with his day job(s), he still finds time now for other things he enjoys, such as charity work.
“I found a long time ago that if you’re just focused on making a lot of money, you’re just not going to be happy,” he said. “I love what I do and if someone can’t afford surgery, I’ll typically do it pro bono.”
Hirsch is involved in organizations like Next Gen Face, which takes care of kids with craniofacial syndromes, cleft lip or palate or other syndromes that involve skulls and orbits. He also works with patients with tumors in Africa and treats veterans from the Army and Marine Corps.
“It’s an honor to treat veterans," he said. “It’s been really important and gratifying for me to help people who fight for our country.”
He’s also enthusiastic about helping those in related surgical fields. He has mentored a number of Big Red wrestlers as they moved into the medical world, including Dr. Mike Kail ’98 and Dr. Leo Urbinelli ’01.
When talking to the NCAA Silver Anniversary honoree, it’s clear his link to the Big Red remains intact.
“I love Cornell wrestling,” Hirsch said. “I enjoy developing relationships with some of the wrestlers and parents. I love where the program is, how invested everyone is, and the direction. It’s so much fun to be around - I love going back to campus.”
He now has an extra reason to return to Ithaca, as his daughter will start as a freshman at Cornell in the fall. She’s not a wrestler and didn’t need his recruiting pitch, but here it is.
“If you want the best athletic and academic experience in the NCAA, then Cornell is the place for you. That’s a no brainer," he said. "The support for the last 25 or 30 years is unparalleled in the Ivy League. The Alumni Network is second to none. There are alumni from 90 years old to just graduated that are really fond of Cornell and Cornell wrestling. When you have a network like that, the ability to succeed when you graduate becomes a lot easier. Whether you want a career in wrestling or business or medicine or anything else, every option will be available to you when you graduate.”
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