Baltimore Sun’s 2023 Business and Civic Hall of Fame honoree: Kevin J. Cullen

Dr. Kevin J. Cullen, an oncologist who specializes in head and neck cancers, plans to retire this year as director of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

When Dr. Kevin J. Cullen was a senior in high school, his mother gave him a graduation present: a stethoscope engraved with the message, “To Kevin, Love Mom.”

She wanted him to become a doctor — something Cullen had also wanted since he was little — but she knew she wouldn’t live to see it happen. She died from lung cancer around the time of his graduation.


Not long after that, Cullen’s dad died from leukemia.

Losing both of his parents before he graduated from medical school pushed Cullen to devote himself to studying and treating the disease that killed them. He completed his oncology training at the National Cancer Institute, then served as acting director for the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University Medical Center, before moving to Maryland.


For nearly two decades, Cullen has served as director of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center and the oncology program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Under his leadership, the cancer center achieved comprehensive status — the highest designation a center can receive from the National Cancer Institute — and nearly tripled its research funding. The number of patients seen by the center has grown by more than 50%, with the center seeing 3,000 new patients in 2021, according to University of Maryland Medical Center spokeswoman Tiffani Washington.

The number of clinical trials at the center has also doubled, Washington says, and more than half of the participants are minorities. To accommodate the center’s growth and allow for future expansion, it is preparing to build a nine-story patient care center.

Cullen has been the “driving force” behind the center’s growth during the past 20 years, Dr. Mohan Suntha, president and CEO of the University of Maryland Medical System, said in a statement. But in an interview, Cullen is quick to say the center’s success has been a group effort.

“It’s really been a tremendous reflection of how much support we’ve received from the community, from the state, from the talent of our doctors and nurses,” says Cullen, one of the region’s top head and neck cancer specialists. “It’s been a wonderful, wonderful privilege to help lead all of that.”

Cullen is now stepping away from the helm to give someone else a turn. In January, he announced that he’ll be transitioning from his leadership positions at the center later this year.

He’ll still be seeing patients; he’s not retiring. He emphasized that to Larry Hogan when the former Maryland governor congratulated him a couple of months ago.

“He wanted to make it clear he’s not going away,” Hogan recalled in an interview with The Baltimore Sun in April. “He’s just giving up some of his responsibilities.”


Though Hogan would later pledge $216 million to cancer research and treatment — $100 million of which would go to the Greenebaum Cancer Center — the first time he met Cullen was in a more personal context.

Five months after Hogan took office in 2015, he was diagnosed with stage 3 non-Hodgkin lymphoma, an advanced and aggressive form of cancer. His first appointment at the Greenebaum Cancer Center was with Cullen and Dr. Aaron Rapoport, another top cancer doctor.

“I just could immediately tell that he was not only a really good guy, but really cared about patients,” Hogan says. “I just knew I was going to be in good hands at their cancer center.”

Outside Cullen’s work as a physician, he also chaired the American Cancer Society’s board of directors. As a member of the board, Cullen was key to shaping the organization’s National Cancer Control Blueprint, says Gary Reedy, CEO of the American Cancer Society from 2015 to 2021.

Reedy says Cullen led researchers in analyzing why the likelihood of someone dying of cancer had dropped by about 30% since 1991 and setting a new goal for cancer mortality to drop by an additional 40% by 2035.

“I know that Kevin’s research focuses mainly in head and neck cancers, but any person dealing with cancer would be fortunate to have a clinician like Kevin,” Reedy says. “You can tell this guy gets up every morning to do whatever he can to improve the lives of his patients.”


Cullen also played an important role in helping to establish CURE Scholars Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, says Dr. Jay Perman, chancellor of the University System of Maryland and a member of the 2021 Hall of Fame class.

Established in around 2015 with the goal of diversifying the health care and broader STEM field, the CURE Scholars program accepts more than two dozen sixth grade students each year from West Baltimore public schools and provides mentorship and after-school enrichment to them as they advance in school.

Last year, Cullen and Perman attended the high school graduation of the first cohort of students to join the program six years earlier. They were off to college, many of them with scholarships. It was one of the most gratifying moments of his career, Cullen says.

“It was a moment that I’m very proud of,” he says. “It helped cement the future for those kids, and it helped cement our commitment to this community.”

Kevin J. Cullen

Age: 66


Hometown: Ridgewood, New Jersey

Current residence: Bethesda

Education: Dartmouth College; M.D. from Harvard University Medical School; Beth Israel Hospital for residency; fellowship at the National Cancer Institute

Career highlights: Faculty at Georgetown University; acting director of the Lombardi Cancer Center; director of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center

Civic and charitable activities: Appointed by President Barack Obama to a five-year term on the National Cancer Advisory Board; 20-plus year volunteer for the American Cancer Society; served on the American Cancer Society National Board of Directors, temporarily serving as board chair

Family: Married to Elizabeth Brown; one son