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NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

CSR’s Sigmon Says So Long, After 30 Years at NIH

Dr. Hilary Sigmon

Dr. Hilary Sigmon

As a child in Bethlehem, Pa., Dr. Hilary Sigmon wanted to become a nurse. She did not envision then, however, that nursing would lead to master’s and doctoral degrees and a research career. Sigmon retired recently after 30 years at NIH, the last 15 as a scientific review officer in the Center for Scientific Review.

Sigmon attended the University of Pennsylvania. “Penn had a 5-year program at the time where I could earn a B.A. in sociology and also a diploma from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing,” she explained.

As a registered nurse, she moved to Washington, D.C., in 1973. She worked in George Washington University Hospital’s intensive care unit and later earned her master’s degree in nursing from Catholic University. She became a clinical nurse specialist in the intensive care units at Johns Hopkins Hospital and research assistant in Hopkins’ pathology department. She then moved to Washington Hospital Center to orchestrate the nursing flight team and co-head its shock trauma unit and helicopter emergency service.

Sigmon earned her Ph.D. at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in physiology, studying antithrombin III and its effect in disseminated anticoagulation during septic shock. “I defended my dissertation a month later than I planned because I gave birth to my son,” she recalled.   

Sigmon first came to NIH through the National Center for Nursing Research, now NINR. “They were looking for a nurse-physiologist to help build their basic science portfolio,” she said. “It was a great entrée for a nurse researcher at the NIH,” she said.

In 2000, she moved to CSR as SRO for the Fogarty International Center to conduct site visits to projects in Russia, Haiti, Uganda and China—all in 6 months. “I basically did not sleep,” she said. Her background helped her form teams with the right mix of expertise, she noted.

“Hilary changed the model of how international initiatives are reviewed at CSR,” said Dr. René Etcheberrigaray, CSR deputy director. She involved a range of study sections, he explained, tapping into their scientific expertise while helping them understand the resource constraints in many middle- and low-income countries.

As another lasting contribution, Sigmon was SRO of the AIDS clinical studies and epidemiology study section. “She was part of the group of people who made a big difference in HIV/AIDS going from an acute disease that killed people to a chronic disease,” said Dr. Robert Freund, chief of the AIDS and AIDS related research integrated review group. “Her dedication to patients and applicants moved the field forward.”

In retirement, Sigmon divides her time between Maryland and Florida, travels internationally, volunteers for political causes and takes Spanish classes.

She remains an active alumnus of Penn, which her husband, sons, sister and other family members also attended. She credits her R.N. training there as the beginning of a challenging, yet unexpected trajectory. “The profession of nursing allowed me to fulfill my dreams,” she said. “It took me to places I never imagined, including international research related to HIV/AIDS.”

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