The healing power of hats: How one TCOM alum brings smiles to faces with his unique collection

By Steven Bartolotta

Dr. Christopher Hull, TCOM alumIn 1998, Christopher Hull, DO and 1979 Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine alum, was wearing a signature hat from his vast collection, as he walked through a hospital hallway.

A patient came up to him and asked if he was wearing a welder’s hat.

“Yes,” said Dr. Hull with a smile.

Patient and doctor struck up a friendly conversation about the hat. At that time, Dr. Hull was Chief of the Rehabilitation Unit at the Osteopathic Medical Center of Texas.

Later in the day, Dr. Hull learned that patient was in the rehab unit after having a stroke. He hadn’t spoken to anyone in six weeks. Not to the nurses. Not to the doctors.

The patient hadn’t spoken to anyone until he saw Dr. Hull wearing the welder’s hat.

That is one of many stories about the man affectionately known as the “The Hat Doc”.

Dr. Hull is a well-known orthopedic surgeon with more than three decades of experience and practice. Where did the moniker “The Hat Doc” come from?

One day in 1994, a patient brought a Russian soldier’s garrison hat to him as a gift, and as he wore it around that day, he noticed each patient appeared to be less anxious.  More than 2,000 hats later, he is still entertaining patients, nurses and staff, but also providing a calming bedside manner to patients facing difficult circumstances.

“It’s not just hats, it’s all of these levels of relationships,” said Dr. Hull. “It just seemed to break the ice and bring a little interest for the patients.”

The hat hobby grew.

Dr. Hull was practicing in Fort Worth, Granbury and performing surgery in the OMCT, where his staff and patients were eager to see which hat he would wear on any given day. His collection grew over time as patients gave him hats.

Dr. Christopher Hull, TCOM alum, has an entire wall of hats to brighten his patients days.Dr. Hull created a “Hat Wall of Honor” that helped him connect with patients who wear hats.

“I started taking pictures of everyone who came in with a hat on, and I would put their pictures up on the wall and it brought so many smiles to the faces of the patients,” Dr. Hull said.

His practice, which sits right across the street from The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth (HSC), looks like a museum. The walls are decorated with hats from across the world while the exam rooms are also themed. Dr. Hull has patient rooms full of hats honoring first-responders, the military and the medical community.

Dr. Hull’s hat collection offers a little romance too. It includes the hats that he and his wife, a nurse at the time, wore in the operating room where they first met in Austin in 1972.

There are many stories that accompany the hats in his collection.

In 2006, Dr. Hull swapped hats with Pope Benedict XVI. while visiting the Holy Land and Rome. The exchange took place after Dr. Hull bought a white zucchetto. With the help of a Brazilian priest, Dr. Hull was in the audience in St. Peter’s Square, when the Pontiff started making his way through the crowd. Dr. Hull had his white zucchetto ready for his once-in-a-lifetime chance.

“The Pope sees a baby at first, he picks up the baby and gives it a kiss, and the crowd is cheering,” said Dr. Hull. “Then as he’s coming down, he looks right at me, right into my eyes, and he reaches, takes the hat off his head, and the hat out of my hand, puts my hat on his head and gives me the hat that he was wearing.”

People won’t see Dr. Hull wearing this hat.

“No one else has ever worn that hat, not even me,” Dr. Hull said. “I put it into a Plexiglas case and sealed it.”

Dr. Hull is nearing his 40th year of practice. “The Hat Doc” receives pleasure in caring for all the people and he enjoys entertaining them with the collection of his hats. His hat hobby is one way he connects with people. Serving as a role model for future doctors is another way he connects with people.

Dr. Hull has been a TCOM faculty member for years, as his practice has welcomed students doing rotations. He has built a wall of pictures in their honor, with an image of every TCOM student who has rotated through his office during his time.

“I’ve got everyone of them here, and I’ve enjoyed having them,” Dr. Hull said.

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