The Ray Helfer Society Awards Its Highest Honor to Dr. Mary Clyde Pierce.

Mary Clyde Pierce, MD

The Ray Helfer Society, an honorary society to physicians who care for children experiencing abuse and neglect awarded the Ray Helfer Award to Dr. Mary Clyde Pierce at its annual meeting on April 7, 2024.  The Helfer Award is given annually to a member of the Society who has made significant contributions to the field of Child Abuse Pediatrics.

Dr. Audrey Raut nominated Dr. Pierce for the award with the followinng letter:

It is my honor to nominate Dr. Mary Clyde Pierce for the Helfer Award in recognition of her tremendous contributions to the field of Child Abuse Pediatrics. I was first introduced to Dr. Pierce when I was a medical student ten years ago, and since that time have had the incredible opportunity to work with her closely on a number of research projects. I write to you not only as Dr. Pierce’s mentee, but more importantly, as one of many young physicians inspired to choose this path based on her example. 

In the early stages of her career, Dr. Pierce laid a foundation for our field with rigorous studies of fracture biomechanics. Her landmark paper on the evaluation of long bone fractures in children, published in Child Abuse and Neglect, is often cited as a frequent reference and a helpful refresher for new and experienced physicians alike.  Perpetually motivated by impactful cases and clinical conundrums, Dr. Pierce has continued her work in this area by exploring injury plausibility in the setting of long  bone fractures and accidental falls.

However, her legacy extends far beyond fractures.  Dr. Pierce has paved the way for us to understand the role of bruising in differentiating between abusive and accidental trauma. Thanks to her work, the acronym TEN-4-FACESp has become nearly universal within the pediatric community and has even been granted an annual day of recognition by multiple state legislatures. Her recent launch of the “LCAST” mobile app incorporating this evidence is a ground-breaking and innovative step to disseminate critical findings rooted in child abuse research to trainees, community providers, and collaborating agencies worldwide.

From exploration of psychosocial risk factors and intimate partner violence to studies of diagnostic ultrasound techniques and fatal outcomes, Dr. Pierce’s areas of research interest have been both dynamic and far-reaching. Embarking on what may be her most ambitious and passionate journey yet, Dr. Pierce has begun to examine the role of epigenetics in linking early life trauma to health across the life course. Originating from many different sources over the years, these intersecting streams of exploration have brought a wealth of knowledge to our field. With more than 167 publications, 43 personal mentees, and over $12 million in lifetime funding support, Dr. Pierce is incredibly deserving of recognition for her achievements.

And though these numbers are astounding, what has perhaps struck me most is how Dr. Pierce remains as humble and committed as ever before, as though her work has only just begun. It is clear to anyone who encounters her that she wakes up every day thinking of how she can do better—for her patients, for all of our patients, and for the world we live in. She has embraced the call to address injustice in our field and in the medical system as a whole, by working to improve diagnostic accuracy, prevent bidirectional errors in under and over reporting, and advocate for equity.

Dr. Pierce’s contributions to this field as a science are only strengthened by her dedication to this field as a community. She is a model of character, of compassion and resilience. She has taught me that when someone says you are trying to do the impossible, you are most likely on the right track. Sought after for her charismatic talks on passion and teamwork, her ability to awe and inspire is truly remarkable. During a recent epigenetic adventure, Dr. Pierce became fascinated by the history of the lighthouse, designed with lamps and lenses to serve as a beacon to ships navigating
treacherous shores. In her own way, Dr. Pierce has become a source of guiding light within our own community, working tirelessly to improve our scientific understanding of injuries and to protect children at risk of maltreatment.