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Beyond Medicine

 

David Hilmers, M.D. ’95, inducted into the U.S Astronaut Hall of Fame  

For David Hilmers, M.D. ’95, EE, M.P.H., MSEE, a veteran of NASA’s space program with four space shuttle missions under his belt, the views of Earth after the eight-and-a-half-minute journey to reach space cemented his lifelong dream to pursue medicine with a focus on global health. 

“The most amazing thing about being in space is just looking back at Earth and seeing it in its entirety,” Dr. Hilmers said. “Seeing the beauty of Earth from that view but knowing that there was suffering going on clinched my desire to become a medical doctor.” 

Dr. Hilmers, a retired military aviator and colonel for the U.S. Marine Corps and currently a professor of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and chief medical officer for an Australian-based NGO, Hepatitis B Free (HBF), was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on June 1. 

Dr. Hilmers was honored for “demonstrating outstanding accomplishments in furthering NASA’s mission of exploration and discovery and representing the committed spirit of exploration, bravery and teamwork that make our space program a continued success,” said Curt Brown, board chairman of the foundation that stewards the selection process. 

“It’s a real honor to be inducted and to still be remembered after all of these years and thought of as having done a good job,” Dr. Hilmers said. 

In addition to space exploration, a passion for volunteer medical work and disaster relief in low-resource countries has taken Dr. Hilmers to nearly 60 countries. He has worked in areas of conflict (Iraq and Ukraine); as an early responder after typhoons, earthquakes and tsunamis; in refugee camps across the globe; and in epidemics such as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  

Most recently, he and his wife Alice Lee, M.D., founder of HBF, have been involved in setting up programs to address the high incident rate of Hepatitis B in resource-poor areas like Tonga and Papua New Guinea. 

“One of the most unusual places we have been is North Korea,” Dr. Hilmers said. 

“It was an honor to set up clinics across the country treating over two thousand patients. We were among the very few people outside of the country who could talk directly to patients not only about their disease but also the challenges they face in their life,” he said. 

Dr. Hilmers, who grew up in a small Iowa town, credits a sense of adventure and wanting to give back to those who are less fortunate for defining his unique career path. 

“Find your passion because you will excel at the things that you love doing,” he said.