When William Hoagland was stuck with a needle during his surgical residency, he panicked. The patient he was working with had tested positive for AIDS, which had only recently been discovered. He feared the comfortable life he was pursuing as a doctor was gone.
“I was just devastated,” he said, crediting the AIDS scare as the first thing God used to show Hoagland that his hope was in earthly pursuits rather than an eternal one. This was his wake-up call. The patient’s positive test was later found to be false, but the scare had served its purpose.
After this frightening incident, Hoagland received the gospel tract Steps to Assurance through the group Bible Study Fellowship. He realized he was lost and needed a savior. He said God used two central things in his life to bring him to this realization: the preached Word of God and the work God was doing in his wife, Marte, whom he met in college while they were both non-believers.
Hoagland and his wife became Christians and were faithful members of a church for 20 years, but it was not near their home.
They wanted to be involved in their own community. While they were wrestling with the decision to leave their church, Marte heard about Jay Roy, who had left his professional career in business and gone to Southern Seminary. Roy enrolled at Southern to prepare to plant a church in Prospect, Kentucky, which happened to be where both he and Hoagland had grown up. They shared a similar vision for ministering to their hometown.
Roy and Hoagland began gathering a core group and in September 2012 officially launched Throne of Grace. The church celebrated its third anniversary in September.
Gaining a theological education and expanding his service role at church have been on Hoagland’s mind for years. His first step was arranging his work schedule so he could be more involved at Throne of Grace. But he wanted to be better equipped to minister and lead.
Roy is very passionate about his time at Southern, and, through his testimony, Hoagland decided it was time for him to set aside his medical career and pursue a formal theological education.
“I don’t want it to be about the degree,” he said. “It’s really about being equipped and put that to work in our church.”
Hoagland spent 27 years in the practice of general surgery but now has joined the student body at Southern Seminary. As the new director of the H. Hart Hagan Clinic on campus, he also is looking out for the medical needs of his seminary community.
He is pursuing a Master of Arts in Theological Studies, yet his focus is not on grades but on how he will use what he is learning in class to serve his local church. While he remains uncertain of how God will use his time at Southern, Hoagland sees opportunities in leading the men’s ministry and Bible studies and counseling those need. Whatever happens, he is sure it will be worth the labor.
“Yes, there were aspects of it that were hard,” he said of his decision to leave his medical practice, but “when [God] puts a greater affection in your heart for things … it is not so hard to do that.”
The transition from surgeon to student has been an interesting one for Hoagland. In medical school, he wrote few papers and the curriculum was centered on learning facts rather than understanding ideas. Even the normal struggles, such as budgeting time for writing his papers, are more exaggerated for him after returning to school later in life at the age of 58.
“[I was] sitting there in class on the first day and I pull out my old-fashioned notebook and pen to take notes,” he said. “Looking around, [I saw] there is nobody that is doing that — they all have laptops.”
Hoagland is keeping his medical skills sharp by being the doctor on staff at the campus clinic one day a week. As the clinic director, he is also the voice of the staff and is working to create a new vision for a clinic that better serves the Southern community. He would like to do this by bringing in doctors with subspecialties like dermatology or dentistry. They already have a pediatrician for the large number of families, but he would like to expand what the clinic is equipped to handle.
As a young unbeliever, he became a doctor for the job stability and respect — the same reasons many people go into the medical field. What he pursued for his own purposes, God used to give him a wake-up call. Now he is training to minister to people’s spiritual, rather than just the physical, needs.
Hoagland said uncertainties about his exact calling remain, but “when God lays a passion on you and it doesn’t go away, the [hardest] place to be is when you’re not doing that.”