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From One Battlefield to Another

December 16, 2011
Allen Walker in Gettysburg

Allen Walker, M.D., in Gettysburg, Pa.

Since medical school Allen Walker's career path has been marked by changes that have not only fulfilled and shaped him as a clinician but also improved care for children, especially in pediatric emergency medicine. After his pediatric residency and five years of community private practice, he pursued training as an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Around the same time he started moonlighting in pediatric EDs and discovered a love for emergency medicine. What attracted him?

“The variety of cases, not knowing what’s coming around the corner,” says Walker, who retired from his post as director of the Department of Emergency Medicine (ED) at Hopkins Children in 2010. “You have to be an adrenaline junky, someone who enjoys being interrupted and suddenly put in the middle of what are often hairy situations.”

Some of those hairy situations included cases of child abuse and neglect, an issue Walker followed since his third year in medical school when he read some seminal papers on the subject. He was hooked.

“It was brand new and very exciting, and at the time we were all hopeful that once we were able to understand this phenomenon of child abuse and neglect, we could prevent it fairly quickly and fairly easily,” Walker says. “That, of course, turned out not to be true.”

The prevalence of child abuse, however, only fueled Walker’s passion for protecting and treating patients and their families. He established protocols in the ED in which suspected child abuse cases would be fast-tracked and thoroughly evaluated by a phalanx of expert social workers, nurse practitioners and physicians. He also improved coordination with child protective services and law enforcement, and served on various city and state committees dealing with the problem.

Today, thanks to Walker’s efforts, Hopkins Children’s is nationally regarded as a leading advocate for abused and neglected children. Still, Walker notes, there’s more to be done.

“Primary prevention, or preventing something from ever happening, is something we haven’t solved yet,” Walker says. “But we’ve gotten much better at preventing further abuse of a child for whom we’ve evaluated and provided services. We can take credit for that.”

Leaving his position as director of pediatric emergency medicine doesn’t mean he’s leaving the ED, Walker notes, and child abuse will still be an issue very much on his mind. Removing his administrative hat will give him more time for investigation in that area, as well as teaching residents and medical students in the ED.

The change also means more time for his grandchildren and hobbies like landscape photography and civil war history, which he attends to at his weekend – and future “retirement” – home in Gettysburg, Pa. After spending a fair amount of time in the area for four years, Walker says, he’s just now beginning to “appreciate the flow of the battle and a deeper understanding of the Civil War. Listening to the tour guides, you see the bullets whizzing by.”

After 30 years in pediatric medicine, Walker himself has dodged some bullets. A pediatrician at heart, he considers himself pretty fortunate when looking back at his career path.

“In different stages of my life I’ve had different appreciations,” Walker says. “Before I even came to Hopkins I spent five years in everyday pediatric practice where I saw kids by appointment and did a lot of well-baby stuff. I thoroughly enjoyed that, but then I was lucky enough to have another career.”

This article, by Gary Logan, was first published in the 2011 edition of Hopkins Children’s Magazine. Walker has since retired from Johns Hopkins, where he was honored with a Dec. 14, 2011, reception and a citation of appreciation from the Baltimore States Attorney’s Office for his contributions to the protection of abused and neglected children.

Learn more about the Child Protection Team at Hopkins Children's