In Memoriam: Dale Hammerschmidt

The research ethics community was saddened to learn of the recent loss of Dale Hammerschmidt, MD, to brain cancer on April 5, 2022. Dr. Hammerschmidt, a longtime Minnesota resident including attending, practicing, researching, and teaching at the University of Minnesota Medical School, was a recipient of the 2005 PRIM&R Special Service award for his contributions to the organization and the human subjects protections community.

Dr. Hammerschmidt took his first position on an IRB in 1976 and went on to chair various boards for more than a decade. This experience led him to become, according to his obituary in the Star Tribune, Dr. Hammerschmidt “increasingly active in the bioethics of human research,” including taking an adjunct position in the University’s Department of Rhetoric, where he studied the informed consent engagement. He was an active presence in the early days of the IRB Forum, and a regular presenter at PRIM&R conferences and educational workshops.

To get a sense of Dale’s humor and care in teaching, you can watch a video of him discussing a pulmonary embolism he experienced in a YouTube video for the National Blood Clot Alliance.

You can read Dr. Hammerschmidt’s obituary here. Below, we have gathered words from a few members of the PRIM&R community who knew Dale well. We welcome your own memories and kind words about Dale in the comments below.

“I was privileged to work with Dale on several PRIMR ‘IRB101 On the Road’ events.  Each moment with Dale was an entertaining learning experience.  His breadth and depth of knowledge on innumerable topics was amazing. Dale’s ability to communicate with humbleness and patience was second to none.  I recall a group discussion on the use of data obtained from research conducted on concentration camp victims.  He led the difficult discussion in a thoughtful, thorough manner.

“His curiosity was contagious.  It seemed there was no stone uncovered for Dale’s boundless energy (physical, mental, and spiritual) whether it was recombinant biking or creating ice lanterns or butterfly hatching.

“Dale had a twinkle in his eye and when combined with a smile and nod of his head—he made you feel special.  Dale was a kindhearted soul and will be sorely missed by many but he will remain forever in our hearts.  A life well lived and an inspiration for all.”

Elizabeth A. Bankert | Emerita Director, IRB, Dartmouth College

“Dr. Dale, as he was known to many of us, was one of the first people I met when I came to work for the IRB at the University of Minnesota. He was a wonderful mentor for me as I learned about the ethical and regulatory issues we faced. He was also a gentle humorous guide through the many pressures that challenged our institution. His wisdom and unfailing ethical compass were valuable to me and to so many IRB professionals. Dale shared his counsel with many through the IRB Forum, the perfect medium for his quick insightful take on regulatory and ethical issues.  His leadership and devotion to research ethics served us well.”

Moira Keane | Retired Executive Director, HRPP, University of Minnesota

“Dale Hammerschmidt and I were friends and colleagues in the IRB world for many years. It was my privilege to serve on conference panels and site visits with Dale. Without question, he was a brilliant academic who made a significant contribution to the field of human subjects protection and research ethics. He is dearly missed and will not be forgotten.”

Ernest D. Prentice, PhD | Professor Emeritus, Dept. of Genetics, Cell Biology and Anatomy, University of Nebraska Medical Center

“Like many in our field, my first encounter with Dale Hammerschmidt was through the IRB discussion forum, known in those days as MCWIRB (owing to its home base at the Medical College of Wisconsin). It’s funny the things we remember about people, even 30 years later, but I recall making a comment on MCWIRB—using what little Latin I knew—that something needed to be taken cum grano salis (“with a grain of salt”).  Dale agreed, but suggested we should probably take it cum MONS salis (“with a mountain of salt”)!  We eventually worked together in person, collaborating on issues and team-teaching through PRIM&R, and Dale was the same as he was online. He brought extensive knowledge to the table and did serious work, but always with common sense, a gentle wit, and a twinkle in his eye.”

Daniel Nelson | Emeritus Director, Environmental Protection Agency, Emeritus Professor, University of North Carolina