Dr. Marcia Herman-Giddens has seen children at their best. As a Marcia Herman-Giddens pediatric Physician Associate with four children, three stepchildren, four grandchildren and five step-grandchildren, Herman-Giddens is no stranger to watching kids blossom into healthy and successful adults.
She has also seen them at their worst. With over two decades of experience in the field of child maltreatment, Herman-Giddens has treated and worked with youth whose lives have been shattered by violence and abuse.
"It can be quite hard," says Herman-Giddens, of her involvement in such cases. A decade ago, the Alabama native left clinical practice at Duke, in part, because of the associated emotional toll. "It became too difficult and painful to see children coming in to the hospital beaten, dead or infected with venereal disease." In many cases, continues Herman-Giddens, the surviving ones "would come back again" in the same condition.
Although she left clinical practice, by no means did Herman-Giddens leave her concern for these young victims behind. Along with her current positions as Senior Fellow at the North Carolina Child Advocacy Institute and an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina’s Department of Maternal and Child Health, Herman-Giddens works tirelessly as a child maltreatment consultant who has published over 50 articles and books on the subject. Her latest effort, Not Invisible… Not in Vain… Child Maltreatment Fatalities: Guidelines for Response, examines such abuse-related deaths while setting guidelines for a more effective response from all of the involved service providers and institutions. The book, released in February 2001, is the first of its type in the nation and will likely serve as a model for other states.
Marcia Herman-Giddens is concerned with the effects puberty of modern media on children as well. "Kids are having a very hard time with our current culture," she says. Violent, sexualized and consumer-driven images, continues Herman-Giddens, "spill over into everything that they buy, eat, wear and do." She has spoken out on such negative media images at numerous forums and has conducted extensive research on this and on related issues of child growth and development. Her groundbreaking work on the decreasing age of female puberty — an outgrowth of her research on child sexual abuse — was recently the focal point of a New York Times Magazine article.
"She is not one to examine an issue simply because it is timely, or because it will attract funding or recognition," says Dr. Dorothy Browne, an associate professor of public health at UNC. Browne encouraged Herman-Giddens’ career path while the latter was a graduate student there. "Marcia pursues issues and problems because she carefully studies them, genuinely cares about them and wants to call attention to them. When my students question me about conducting research that makes a difference," continues Browne, "I refer them to her work."
Though not one to pursue recognition, her many achievements have made it hard for her to avoid it. After graduating Magna Cum Laude from Duke’s Physician Associate program in 1978, Herman-Giddens was appointed as pediatric coordinator of the program. In 1983, she was named Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at Duke and, two years later, received her masters in public health from UNC. Soon after, Herman-Giddens assumed the leadership of the Duke Child Protection Team, a post she held for three years. In 1994, she received her doctorate in public health.
Herman-Giddens professional appointments and honors are far too numerous to list. Some highlights include her 1994 UNC award for Outstanding Service to the Health of North Carolinians, her 1996 Kimberly Crews award from the North Carolina Professional Association for work in child abuse, and her recent selection as chair of the Child Mortality Subcommittee of the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force.
But though she has accomplished much, and is widely recognized as a leading authority in the field of child maltreatment, Herman-Giddens still takes measures to avoid the associated emotional stress that pushed her out of clinical practice a decade ago.
"I have learned that I must have balance in my life to deal with the horror of working with child abuse," says Herman-Giddens, stressing the significance of such adopted hobbies as gardening and hiking. "I think all of us in this field put up a shell or wall to keep from feeling the pain and horror too much. Otherwise we would not be able to function."
But such walls can be fragile, admits Herman-Giddens, and the cases do "take their toll. What sustains me," she continues, "is the belief that any little bit we can do does make a difference."
Ultimately, the difference is that Herman-Giddens remains an optimist even though many of her accomplishments have been realized in an area defined by brutality and tragedy.
"As human beings, gradually, we do improve," she says. "There is goodness… there is progress. And it’s a great privilege for me to be able to contribute to that progress."