2013 Blue Bird Circle Award

Harvey Singer, MD

Profile written by Phillip L. Pearl, MD


Harvey Singer, MD

Harvey Saul Singer, MD, originally from the Bronx, grew up surrounded by large apartment buildings against which he avidly played stickball, the start of a remarkable athletic, and scholarly, life. At age 12 his family moved to Long Beach, Long Island, then touted as, “America’s Healthiest City.” he excelled in scholarship and athletics, having been the captain of his high school football and basketball teams. His basketball coach knew the football coach at Oberlin College, which led to his attending this excellent liberal arts school on a work-scholarship program where he became the captain of the college football and baseball teams.

After graduating Oberlin (BA 1962) with a zoology major, Dr. Singer attended the Western Reserve university School of Medicine, now “Case Western” (MD 1966). he took his pediatric internship at the university of Illinois, Research and Educational hospital 1966-1967, followed by pediatric residency at the Cleveland Metropolitan General hospital 1967-1970. Robert Eiben, consummate child neurologist, was a strong influence. Harvey served as a pediatric chief resident at Case from 1969-1970, a pivotal year because one of the other chiefs was sufficiently clinically oriented that Harvey could work in the laboratory of Irwin Schafer. There his team described leucocyte beta-galactosidase deficiency in GM1 gangliosidosis. This was the germination of an investigative interest in child neurology, where his clinical proclivities were leaning.

Dr. Singer served from 1970-1972 as Major in the U.S. Army in Fort Knox, KY and then sought a training position in child neurology. In characteristic understatement, he explains that the choices then were heme-onc which didn’t seem so appealing, cardiology but he wasn’t good at hearing murmurs much less heart sounds, and then neurology. After driving from Durham for a Duke interview to inner city Baltimore, he fondly recalls his wife’s comment, “We’re not coming here.” But the Hopkins program was sold to the young Singer couple by John Freeman and Guy McKhann, and they never left. Dr. Singer was a Hopkins pediatric neurology resident from 1972-1975 and then joined the faculty in 1975. he was promoted to full professor in 1988, no small achievement in that system, and was named the haller Professor of Pediatric Neurologic Disorders in 1997. he has received numerous honors, awards, and visiting Professorships, and served on numerous Hopkins committees including the Appointments and Promotion Committee from 1992-2005, including chairmanship from 1997-2005.

His academic focus has concentrated on movement disorders, to which he credits Ian Butler, who generously shared the ideas and work when they were colleagues in Baltimore before Dr. Butler relocated to Houston. Donald Price was a particularly inspirational figure at Hopkins, and the neurochemistry laboratory of Joe Coyle was pivotal in initiating Dr. Singer’s own laboratory. Dr. Singer has investigated and reported on many aspects of movement disorders, in particular Tourette syndrome and developmental stereotypies. he has reported on clinical symptomatology, outcome, comorbidities, therapies, genetics, and underlying biological mechanisms of tics including neuroimmunology, volumetric imaging, positron emission tomography, and biochemical analysis of postmortem tissue. he has been actively engaged in questioning and researching immunological bases for PANDAS and autism, with the recent coinage along with colleagues of the term CANS, or Childhood Acute Neuropsychiatric Syndrome, a helpful term to operationalize the spectrum of disorders in this umbrella and push the field forward. he characteristically demurs, however, when asked to describe his most important papers and contributions, citing that he has been in a place that has provided great collaborators and opportunities.

Dr. Singer has been a prominent figure on the national scene, having served as an ABPN examiner, AAN Course Director and Child Neurology Executive Committee member (as Secretary-Treasurer), and Section Councilor, and fully seven committees of the Child Neurology Society. He was President of the Professors of Child Neurology (2002-2004) during the tumultuous time of the creation of the match, which evolved from a lively debate to a mandate foisted upon the PCN as long as fourth year medical students were going to be accepted into child neurology. Dr. Singer essentially organized the child neurology San Francisco match the best fit at the time, and later made the transition to the NRMP match when the SF match could not meet the needs of the specialty. Dr. Singer continues to serve as chairman of the CNS-PCN Match Committee.

Dr. Singer has been a longstanding true triple threat, with bona fide credentials and expertise in clinical excellence, education, and research, including translational and bench work. He was the Training Director for the Neurological Sciences Academic Development Award (NSADA) at Hopkins that began in 1993 and which enabled the careers of so many promising and ultimately successful academic child neurologists. He has been a prolific contributor to the medical literature, with 206 original articles, 74 chapters, and lead authorship on two books which are co-authored with either prior trainees or colleagues in movement disorders.

It is fitting that Harvey Singer is the inaugural awardee of the Blue Bird Circle Training Program Director Award, which was generously created to honor child neurology program directors that have been important mentors and inspirational leaders to the next generations of child neurologists. The input of Dr. Singer’s own trainees supports his selection beyond doubt. Dr. Singer directed the child neurology residency program at Hopkins for two decades, from 1991-2011, and oversaw the training of over thirty child neurology residents during that period.

What is particularly striking is how his trainees consistently describe their initial encounters with Dr. Singer as profound and lasting in the sincerity and dedication he devoted to their careers. Anne Comi, MD at Hopkins and Kennedy Krieger wrote: “I first met Harvey at my interview for a child neurology residency at Johns Hopkins. Harvey recognized my commitment to research and I was able to take full advantage of all these resources and supports, both while in residency and afterwards as a recipient of the NSADA award.”

Eric Kossoff, MD, current training program director at Hopkins, wrote: “I have known Dr. Singer since 1996 when I first interviewed for a position in the training program. Dr. Singer is a remarkable leader and mentor. Ever since my first day as a fellow, he has been incredibly supportive and his door is always open for advice about child neurology or life. In the past few years since he stepped down as Program

Director, I have often continued to ask him his opinion about best ways to advance the careers of our young trainees.”

Adam Hartman, MD at Hopkins wrote: “I have known Dr. Singer since I applied to the Pediatric Neurology Residency Program over 10 years ago. What impressed me the most about our initial interview was a comment he made about how the purpose of the training program was to see me through all of my training, not just the three years of residency. Dr. Singer was true to his word. Dr. Singer also is known as one of the best bedside clinical teachers…it was a real treat figuring out which medicines would work best for which patients – learning at the hand of a master.”

Lori Jordan, MD, PhD, now at Vanderbilt, wrote: “I first met Dr. Singer in 1998 when I was a visiting medical student rotating on the neurology inpatient service at Johns Hopkins. As a medical student, pediatric resident, and child neurology resident, I learned the practice of neurology from Dr. Singer. The passion, energy and intellectual curiosity with which Harvey approaches the practice of child neurology is inspiring. He has served as a visionary training director, teacher, and friend to generations of child neurologists.”

Dr. Singer’s advice for the next generations was solicited for this column; his humility bars him from offering it spontaneously. For those looking to train, he recommends identifying a place to stay beyond residency, with the goal of deciding on an area of interest and staying to foster a career. For those in mid- career, he recommends doing what one enjoys, whether it’s clinical, translational, or bench work, in a place that enables one to continue to grow and flourish. his outside interests remain athletics, as he and his wife are avid bicyclists and have taken trails throughout Europe, New England, and their own favorites around Baltimore. his five grandchildren otherwise keep him traveling between Potomac, Maryland and Chicago. While stepping down as chief of the child neurology service at Hopkins two years ago, he otherwise continues as full-time faculty, continuing the clinical, investigative, and educational work