He studied at the University of Kansas before transferring to Harvard University, where he earned a B.S. degree in 1905. Following his graduation, he taught in Tennessee and Oklahoma. During the summers he continued his studies in bacteriology and physiology at the University of Chicago. In 1909, Hinton enrolled in Harvard Medical School. With the aid of two prestigious scholarships he was able to graduate with honors in 1912.
Hinton returned to Harvard Medical School in 1918 as an instructor in preventive medicine and hygiene. In 1921 he began teaching bacteriology and immunology--subjects he would teach at Harvard for over thirty years.
Hinton became internationally know as an expert in the diagnosis and treatment of syphilis. His serological test for syphilis, which proved to be more accurate than currently accepted tests, was endorsed by the U.S. Public Health Service in 1934. Hinton's test also was simple, quick, and unambiguous.
In 1936 Hinton published the first medical textbook by a black American: Syphilis and Its Treatment.
Hinton turned down the NAACP's 1938 Spingarn Medal award because he wanted his work to stand on its own merit; he was concerned that his work would not be as well-received if it was widely known in his profession that he was black.
In 1948, in recognition of his contributions as a serologist and public health bacteriologist, Hinton was elected a life member of the American Social Science Association. The serology lab at the Massachusetts Public Health Department's Laboratory Institute Building was named for him.
Although Hinton retired from Harvard in 1950, he continued to teach there for several years and served as a physician at the Mass Hospital School for Crippled Children in Canton, Massachusetts. Until 1953, he served as physician-in-chief of the Department of Clinical Laboratories of the Boston Dispensary. Also, he served as a special consultant to the U.S. Public Health Service.