Bringing CNS Members Together to Make Children’s Lives Better


Marvin Fishman, MD

Profile written by Robert S. Rust, MD

Marvin Fishman, MD

Marvin Fishman was born in Chicago, Illinois on February 16, 1937. he attended Chicago public schools. his interest in medicine was aroused by his admiration for his own pediatrician. He attended college and medical school at the University of Illinois from which he was awarded his M.D. degree in 1961. Exposure to neuroscience while in medical school influenced Dr. Fishman’s decision to become a neurologist. his first original publications, concerning neuropharmacology, were published during his senior year in medical school. During medical school he met and married his wife of more than half a century, Gloria Greenberg. They started a family that includes two children, Bradley Stephen and Patricia Ann. Dr. Fishman completed his internship and pediatric residency at Michael Reece hospital in Chicago in 1964 followed by two years service as a captain and Chief, Pediatric Outpatient Clinic in the U.S. Army Medical Corps at William Beaumont General hospital in El Paso, Texas. his training in neurology and child neurology started in 1966 at the Massachusetts General hospital under Phil Dodge, who became for him as for many others, “the” role model. he completed his training at St. Louis Children’s hospital having been part of the remarkable transplantation of the Dodge group to St. Louis, a group that included Art Prensky, joe Volpe, and Darryl DeVivo. Art Prensky and harish Agrawal served as mentors for Dr. Fishman’s development as a neurochemist specializing in developmental lipid chemistry. In addition to the knowledge that all of these individuals imparted, they provided an example of the remarkable work ethic that has been characteristic of Dr. Fishman’s career as well.

At Washington University, Dr. Fishman was to become a pioneer in the new field of pediatric neurorehabilitation. he became Co-Director of the birth defects program at St. Louis Children’s hospital and from 1973-1979 he was Director of the Irene Walter Johnson Institute of Rehabilitation at Washington University. He participated as well in patient care in the ophthalmology and otolaryngology programs as well as the intensive care services in which Drs. Volpe, Prensky, DeVivo, and Ed Dodson were also engaged. Dr. Fishman established a steady record of scholarly publication that engaged and refined the talents of the many individuals whom he encountered and mentored during their training in child neurology, first at Wash U and subsequently at Baylor. Over the course of his career Dr. Fishman has thus produced 62 original full-length publications covering such topics as development of cerebral myelin and effects on this of malnutrition (11 papers), other neurochemical disorders (2), congenital brain developmental abnormalities (15), neonatal, cardiovascular, and critical care aspects of brain injury (11), infectious CNS illnesses (7), and a host of other subjects. Dr. Fishman has served on the editorial boards of the journal of Pediatrics, the journal of Child Neurology, Pediatric Neurology, and Annals of Neurology.

One particular driving force in Dr. Fishman’s keen interest in child neurology and neuroscience – one that he shared other early child neurologists and continues to share with those that have come after – is the sense of urgency to fill in the details of those subjects about which we have known little, details about which few pediatricians or others have the curiosity to even notice, much less investigate. To describe this as a “driving force” might seem paradoxical in an individual of such sustained gentlemanly calmness and composure. It is nonetheless true that this has been a force of extraordinary and exceedingly productive energy. his career has been one that has devoted itself to enlarging that knowledge and thus improving the quality of care that is made available to children with neurologic diseases. Among other early achievements he described the neurocutaneous condition technically termed encephalocraniocutaneous lipomatosis that has subsequently also been less challengingly termed “Fishman’s syndrome.” Dr. Fishman rose through the ranks in St. Louis, achieving professorships in Pediatrics, Neurology and Preventative Medicine at Washington University. In addition to his other duties, Dr. Fishman made particular contributions to the newborn service as well as to ophthalmology and otolaryngology at Washington University.

When Dr. Ralph Feigin chose to leave St. Louis Children’s to assume leadership at Baylor College of Medicine he chose Dr. Fishman to establish and become Chief of the Neurology service at Texas Children’s hospital. he transferred all of his interests and the organizational skills that he had developed in St. Louis to establish and improve their application to the care and understanding of childhood neurological diseases at Baylor. As might be expected, he has served with exceptional distinction on many committee assignments too numerous to mention here. he has shown particular interest and ability in the development of improved curricula and in the organization of subspecialty training programs. He has been involved in training and administration of individuals pursuing careers in occupational and physical therapy. Dr. Fishman quickly developed a fellowship program that trained 54 child neurologists during his tenure as head of the Section of Child Neurology. In addition to becoming Director of the Section of Child Neurology at Baylor College of Medicine in 1979, Dr. Fishman became Chief of the Neurology Service at Texas Children’s hospital and Associated Neurologist at St. Luke’s Episcopal hospital in houston. In 1992 Dr. Fishman became Vice Chair for Administrative Affairs of the Department of Pediatrics at Baylor College of medicine.

At some point – perhaps at Baylor – Dr. Fishman initiated the practice of keeping little 3×5 cards on which, as he encountered individuals in training, he recorded some amount of undisclosed information. It is certainly representative of his unfailingly graceful tendency to come to understand and to treat every person he encounters – colleague or patient – as an individual. Presumably these cards represented a way in which he could come to know each individual well and perhaps a way in which he could adjust his approach to their training upon the basis of their particular developing interests. In addition to finding original observations upon which they might gather fresh information and write an original paper, he found chapters for them to write; these have reached a total of 58 that cover the waterfront of clinical child neurology and associated neuroscience. Those whom he has trained have done remarkably well. Credit for this achievement must also be allotted to the very large number of people who have either trained with him and remained at Baylor or have been recruited from elsewhere to join the Baylor faculty. There are relatively few large child neurology programs that have succeeded in establishing a durable sense of  identity and belonging and Dr. Fishman has played an important role in two exemplary examples: Wash U and Baylor. Five Baylor trainees have themselves become Child Neurology Program Directors; many have served as officers of the CNS or as Board Examiners. Most on the remarkable Baylor list have pursued exceptionally distinguished and productive careers whether as neuroscientists, or as child neurologists in either academic or private practice. Trainees universally acclaim Dr. Fishman’s ceaseless calm and orderly commitment to education, his capacity to single out of complex topics those facts that are most important to notice, retain, and where possible to refine. Dr. Fishman employed not only his own knowledge but the carefully selected knowledge of others in the production of his standard textbook, Pediatric Neurology. In 2003 Dr. Fishman received the Arnold j. Rudolph Baylor Pediatric Award for lifetime excellence in teaching. As he stepped down from directing the Baylor Child Neurology Program, Dr. Fishman was awarded the George Peterkin junior Endowed Chair of Pediatrics. Dr. Fishman retired from active service at Baylor in 2007 becoming an emeritus faculty member.

Dr. Fishman has played an important role in the development of the Child Neurology Society, serving as Councillor, Secretary-Treasurer, President Elect, and then as President from 1987 to 1989. Dr. Fishman received the Hower Award in 1999 for his quite exceptional contributions to child neurology over the course of his career. Dr. Fishman served on the Executive Committee of the Neurology section of the American Academy of Pediatrics, as Councillor of the American Society of Neurochemistry. he was President of the Houston Neurological Society and President of the Southern Child Neurology Society. Dr. Fishman has played a major role in the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, counting among those who in 1987 prepared the Part I written examination of the ABPN and serving on the committee established to consider the question of renewal of certification in pediatrics. he became an ABPN Director in 1991 and was appointed to the Executive Board in 1994. In 1995 he was appointed Chair of the Residency Review Committee for Neurology of the ACGME and in 1996 he became Vice President of the ABPN.

Dr. Fishman’s exceptional qualification for the Arnold P. Gold Foundation humanism in Medicine award deserves additional emphasis. Dr. Fishman has spent his entire career concerned about motor and cognitive developmental disabilities of children. he has been extraordinarily supportive of children and their parents that are dealing with such disabilities. among the sources of his particular effectiveness in all of his roles is the manner in which he seamlessly combines an acute and critical intellect with unfailing curiosity, the desire always to do the right thing, devotion to hard work, a dry sense of humor, and genuine caring and empathy. The combination has at least one additional important virtue: unfailing equanimity. having all of these characteristics so naturally at his fingertips accounts not only for his skills as a teacher but also as a listener and communicator. He is a practical person that asks of others what he always asks of himself – essentially, to “do the best you can.” in her letter nominating Dr. Fishman for this award, Huda Zoghbi emphasized these well known virtues in addition to his patience, modesty, and gentleness. he has remarkable understanding of human nature and is able to deliver honest and insightful information to all whom he encounters. he is a person upon whom everyone naturally relies. it is no wonder that he has come to be widely regarded as one of the most remarkable role models in all of child neurology. Every person who encounters his example professionally is drawn to emulate what they can of his virtues. he inspires in others, as did his original mentor, Phil dodge, a lifelong commitment to steadily improve and enlarge the scope of what is known, never losing in that process the magic of gentleness, observation, humility and perfectly timed and well modulated quiet, dry sense of humor