Kent Hymel, MD

The Ray E. Helfer Society Awards Dr. Kent Hymel its Highest Honor

Kent HymelNomination Letter for Kent Hymel, MD

Please accept this letter nominating Kent P. Hymel for the 2023 Helfer Award.

Dr. Hymel retired this year from clinical practice, leaving a list of accomplishments too long to even summarize here. He has made lasting impact in every area, including in clinical leadership, service to our Society and sub-specialty, and, of course, research. More than this, Kent has consistently demonstrated the highest standards of personal character and collaboration, setting an example for our Society and our specialty in ways that set us apart, and which lay a foundation for future growth and success.

Kent came to our field having already established himself as a successful general pediatrician in the Air Force, serving as Chief of Pediatrics and Director of Ambulatory Pediatrics at two air bases after completing his residency. During his fellowship in Denver, he worked with Carole Jenny on one of the most important papers in the field, bringing attention to the importance of missed abusive head trauma by medical providers. Since then, his research has focused on improving the accuracy of clinicians’ practices to identify and care for children with abusive head trauma. In service of this goal, he created and led the multi-center PEDI-BIRN research network through several studies, culminating in the first cluster-randomized trial of our field – an enormous undertaking. His leadership in the first P50 award from the NIH paves the way for future significant work by child abuse pediatricians.

Even while he was starting and leading his own network, he simultaneously did the hard, daily trench work to contribute to countless studies for other people. Kent always contributes more and expects less from these collaborations, never misses a deadline, and never made me feel like my project took a back seat to his own.

Indeed, in the last 20 years, Kent has been a part – either as a leader or contributor – to the majority of key research advances for abusive head trauma.

Kent always maintains the highest level of quality in everything he does. No detail is too small to be carefully considered, addressed, and reported. For issues as complex and high-stakes as abusive head trauma, we owe Kent a debt for so carefully considering and creating diagnostic criteria that will last.

Kent has also served as a clinical leader in child abuse pediatrics, serving as Medical Director for Child Protection Teams at Inova Fairfax (where he was recognized as the subspecialist of the year) and Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, building teams with national impact and affecting the care of thousands of children. As those of you who have led teams know, these titles summarize thousands of daily efforts to care for children, build clinical systems that work, and to mentor and support the members of your team.

As for service to our Society and our specialty. Dr. Hymel was a member of the first sub-board of Child Abuse Pediatrics and later a deputy editor. He served as Vice-President, President and Past President of the Helfer Society from 2002-2009. His leadership in these early days was essential to the establishment of Helfer as a healthy and robust society, and of Child Abuse Pediatrics as a viable sub-specialty.

Beyond these accomplishments, it is Kent’s character and personal characteristics that set him apart. For all his success, Kent never pulls the ladder up after him. He is constantly reaching behind to pull others along, patiently providing wise counsel, hard work, data, and sponsorship to junior investigators. I first spoke to Kent having cold-called him as a second year medical student at a different institution who had just heard an inspiring lecture, thinking I might want to join the field. He answered the phone on the second ring, and spent 45 minutes giving me great advice about how to join this field. In the 25 years since that call, he’s never failed to give the same generous patience and thoughtful advice – not for me, and not, as far as I can tell, for anyone else. I don’t think the thought would even cross his mind.

Finally, and most importantly, Kent’s humility represents something special for our field – something that has allowed us to grow and develop despite critical challenges. One of the best things about working in Child Abuse Pediatrics is the feeling that we are all in this together. Unlike other fields, no one is trying to gain a competitive advantage over any other program. No one is hiding their new innovation in order to dominate their local market. No one is trying to out-compete another research team. Kent represents a cooperative spirit unique to our field, which stems from a shared goal, and from personal character.

This spirit is something we should cherish. It can’t be bought. It can’t be regulated. It can’t be re-created when it is lost. Instead, it needs the example of dedicated leaders like Kent (and others), and it requires us to follow the example they have set. And so, my nomination of Kent for the Helfer award is my effort to highlight this personal character, so that we will be reminded of what makes our field special, so that we can give thanks to one of the leaders who built that tradition, and so that we can be reminded to maintain that spirit going forward.

Sincerely Yours,

Daniel M. Lindberg, MD
Professor of Emergency Medicine
Professor of Pediatrics
University of Colorado School of Medicine