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RMCOEH director receives prestigious honor for ‘many contributions’ to occupational medicine

Kurt Hegmann, MD, was recently honored with the Western Occupational & Environmental Medical Association’s Rutherford T. Johnstone Award. The award, the association’s highest honor, recognizes Hegmann’s decades of contributions to occupational and environmental medicine. Hegmann is pictured speaking during a 2023 graduation ceremony for the Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health. Photo credit: Charlie Schuknecht

As an occupational medicine physician and the leader of one of the largest centers in the U.S. dedicated to training occupational health and safety professionals, Kurt Hegmann has devoted his professional life to ensuring that healthy workers return home each day and that injured ones can get back to work as soon as possible.

In early September, the decades he has spent in pursuit of those goals earned him recognition from the Western Occupational & Environmental Medical Association. The association honored him with its Rutherford T. Johnstone Award during its Western Occupational Health Conference in Anaheim, California, in early September.

The award, the organization’s highest, is given annually and is bestowed for significant contributions to occupational and environmental medicine. As part of the honor, he also delivered a presentation about his research regarding the link between cardiovascular health and common musculoskeletal disorders.

“I am tremendously grateful to the Western Occupational & Environmental Medical Association for this honor,” Hegmann said. “Having an opportunity to make a difference in this field has been such a privilege. It is a pleasure to wake up every day and get to help people, whether through treating patients who’ve been injured at work or getting the next generation of occupational safety and health professionals ready to tackle the immense challenges that await them in their careers.”

Much of Hegmann’s impact has come through directing the Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (RMCOEH). Over 20 years at the center’s helm, he has overseen its dramatic expansion and helped solidify it as one of the leading institutions of its kind in the world. Most recently, he has guided RMCOEH’s transformation into a multi-university program partnership, the first in Utah history, between the University of Utah and Weber State University. The partnership has already resulted in the creation of two new academic programs at Weber State — a graduate certificate in occupational health nursing and a bachelor’s degree in occupational and environmental health and safety — as well as an initiative to provide opportunities for students to begin their training in high school then continue to bachelor’s- or graduate-level education. RMCOEH is also launching graduate programs in mining safety and occupational health psychology in the coming year.

In addition to his leadership of RMCOEH, Hegmann is an established researcher and has authored or co-authored more than 250 peer-reviewed articles related to occupational and environmental safety and health. His research primarily focuses on musculoskeletal disorders, preventing injuries among safety-critical workers, and evidence-based practice guidelines. Regarding the latter, he has served since 2006 as editor-in-chief of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine’s Guidelines, which are adopted as presumptively correct for the treatment of injured workers in many jurisdictions across the U.S. and are also used internationally. 

He continues to practice medicine, as well, treating patients at the University of Utah’s occupational medicine clinics.

Ramón Terrazas, MD, the president of the Western Occupational & Environmental Medical Association, said the organization was pleased to highlight Hegmann’s accomplishments.  

“The Western Occupational and Environmental Medical Association recognizes Dr. Hegmann’s many contributions to the specialty of occupational medicine and is proud to include him as both a member and this year's recipient of the Rutherford T. Johnstone Award,” he said. 

Hegmann is the second director of RMCOEH to receive the award. The late Royce Moser, Jr., who led RMCOEH for 16 years beginning in 1986, was honored in 2002.

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