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February 9, 2000

Hyman J. Zimmerman, MD

Author Affiliations

Obituaries Section Editor: Roxanne K. Young, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 2000;283(6):812. doi:10.1001/jama.283.6.812

Hyman J. Zimmerman, MD, died July 12, 1999, in Bethesda, Md, of cancer, just 1 week before his 85th birthday. At the time of his death, he held the position of visiting scientist, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, DC. Despite departing his last formal position in 1984, as professor of medicine and director of gastroenterology, George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC, he remained active until his death as a distinguished teacher, scholar, and clinical researcher, serving as a distinguished physician at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Washington, DC, with continuing professorial appointments at George Washington and Georgetown University Schools of Medicine, as well as at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

Dr Zimmerman completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Rochester in 1936 and then moved to California where he obtained both an MA degree in bacteriology and an MD degree at Stanford University. After completing his internship in internal medicine, he entered the US Army, serving from 1943 to 1946, during the last year of which he acted as chief of medicine at a military hospital in France. It was here that his interest in liver disease developed, since he cared for a ward filled with young men with viral hepatitis. This work led to the publication of his seminal article on viral hepatitis.

After returning to the United States and completing his postgraduate training, he began his association with the Veterans Affairs hospital system, a relationship that was to last 50 years, until his death. He served as the first chief of medicine at the VA Medical Center in Omaha, Neb, as well as the VA medical centers in Chicago, Boston, and Washington, DC. During this time (7 years), he held the post of professor and chairman, department of medicine, Chicago Medical School, and chairman, department of medicine, Mount Sinai Hospital, Chicago. Also during this time, he began a training program in the field of hepatology.

Not only did he come to be regarded as one of the giants of hepatology, a discipline he helped create, but he was recognized as a superior general physician, responsible for training and setting on course the careers of several generations of young physicians. Although his contributions to hepatology were vast, with more than 300 peer-reviewed articles and 63 chapters covering virtually all aspects of the discipline, he was particularly noted for his expertise in hepatotoxicity. He virtually single-handedly defined the characteristics of drug-induced injury, permitting the construction of a classification of hepatotoxicity that has stood the passage of time. In 1978, he published the first—and most highly regarded—single-authored textbook on this topic, Hepatotoxicity, which remained for many years the most distinguished reference source. He completed a second edition just as he became ill; it was published 2 months after his death.

In 1989, he moved to a full-time position in the hepatic branch of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, cementing a relationship and close friendship with its director, Dr Kamal Ishak, that had begun 20 years earlier. This helped to reinforce the prestigious clinicopathology liver disease conferences held at that institution, as well as at other venues. Numerous seminal articles and chapters emerged from this close working relationship. This was one of the happiest times of Dr Zimmerman's career.

But Dr Zimmerman was known not only for his brilliant academic career. He was the true "beloved physician," revered by generations of students, by other academics, and by friends and family for his uncommon humanity, kindness, thoughtfulness, and personal commitment, charm, and warmth. He set an example in his relationship with patients and staff that was rare and valuable for those with whom he worked. In the truest sense of the word, he was a "gentle-man."

Dr Zimmerman is survived by a daughter, Diane; 2 sons, Philip and David; 3 grandchildren; and a sister. His wife, Katherine, predeceased him by 10 years.