We always knew she was going a thousand miles an hour,” recalls Kenneth Grant, MD, professor of medicine at Touro University in Nevada, of his former mentor Evelyn V. Hess, MD, distinguished professor emerita and founder and former chief of the division of immunology, allergy, and rheumatology at the University of Cincinnati Medical School. Adds Michael Luggen, MD, another former fellow of Dr. Hess and professor of clinical medicine in the Division at the University of Cincinnati: “She had boundless energy. She accomplished so much that I kind of wondered if she ever slept!”
Starting and building the first division of immunology, allergy, and rheumatology at the University of Cincinnati Medical School comprises only one aspect of Dr. Hess’ remarkable career. Indeed, a reading of her curriculum vitae reveals her intense involvement in research (more than 152 scientific papers, 73 book chapters and reviews, and 205 published abstracts), in professional societies (both national and international), in patient advocate organizations, in governmental affairs, and civic activism. Born in Ireland and completing her medical training in London, Dr. Hess came to the United States in 1960. In her words, she never returned to live in “good old England,” but their loss became our gain. She has made an indelible imprint on the fields of lupus research and patient advocacy, and in the careers of more than 80 rheumatology fellows whom she trained at Cincinnati.
The Attraction to Medicine
By the age of 15, Evelyn V. Hess had already determined that she wanted to be a doctor. This was a remarkable choice in the 1940s, when few young women were taking that road. She didn’t have a physician role model in her family, but several childhood experiences contributed to her fascination with medicine. As a young girl, she had witnessed a friend’s death and ministered to a classmate who had epilepsy. And, she recalls, “My best friend’s father was a physician. We were often in their house, and whenever I possibly could, I would take down all the medical books and read away until darkness fell.”
After obtaining her undergraduate medical degree at the University College in Dublin, Dr. Hess began her medical training in London. While a registrar in internal medicine and pulmonary disease at the Royal Free Hospital Medical School in London, she was also exposed to rheumatology. The fact that these diseases affected almost every part of the body intrigued her. “There didn’t seem to be too many people who were working with or for the patients,” she adds. That theme—working with and for the patient—has been her life’s calling and a binding thread throughout her career.