Bringing CNS Members Together to Make Children’s Lives Better


Michael Painter, MD

Michael Painter, MD

A native of Detroit, Michigan, Michael Painter was a member of a strongly supportive family, particularly his mother. He attended Georgetown University, taking his degree in biology in 1961. By the time he graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1965 he had decided to become a pediatrician. His decision to become a child neurologist was the result of his fascination with neuroscience during his preclinical years in medical school. An individual who was an important source of guidance and encouragement and a role model in these early decisions was the distinguished pediatric immunologist/ virologist, Donald Medearis, Jr. Dr. Painter completed his internship, residency, and chief residency in pediatrics under Dr. Medearis at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in 1968. During that period he became interested in the young field of child neurology and was advised to seek training as a Visiting Fellow in Child Neurology at Columbia, under Sidney Carter, which he did from 1970-1973 after completing a two-year service obligation as Captain in the United States Air Force in Savannah, Georgia.

As was true of so many other Columbia trainees in that era, Dr. Painter experienced a supercharged atmosphere of commitment to the clinical and scientific aspects of neurology. The legendary training program in adult neurology was in the midst of a seamless transition from Houston Merritt to Lewis P. Roland, without interruption of Merritt’s famous clinical rounds and the availability of a most distinguished faculty. Sidney Carter provided a remarkable role model for physicians choosing to become child neurologists and, as he did with so many trainees, he “infected” Dr. Painter with his keenness for clinical investigation. Richard Koenigsberger performed the important service of introducing Dr. Painter to the neurological evaluation and care of the neonate. Thomas K. Oliver Jr., pioneer in neonatology (a word that was unknown as recently as 1960) also participated in kindling interest in neonatal clinical research. Together with Eli Goldenssohn, who trained Dr. Painter in electroencephalography, these individuals nurtured the development of interest in evaluation and treatment of seizures in the newborn and in the more general question of epileptogenesis in developing brain that would figure so prominently throughout Dr. Painter’s career.

There were other important influences. Arnold Gold worked his particular magic as role model for the young physician. Abe Chutorian trained Dr. Painter in neuromuscular diseases and peripheral neurophysiology. Isabelle Rapin provided him with a foundation in behavioral neurology and learning disorders. Gifted fellow- residents stimulated his development, including A. David Rothner and Sandy Schneider (with whom he also shared a passion for fishing). Just behind him in training was Pat Crumrine, who would become his long-term colleague and research collaborator at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Dr. Painter ‘s inextinguishable curiosity and wide-ranging interests in neurology would be fueled at other periods in his career by other important influences including Fred Dreifuss (child epilepsy), Marc Hallett (movement disorders), Ed Kolodny, Hugo Moser, and Darryl DeVivo (metabolic and degenerative diseases). Nicholas Lenn and Robert Moore proved important models as neurological basic scientists.

Upon his return to Pittsburgh, Dr. Painter formed what proved to be one of the numerous durable and productive collaborative associations of his career. With C.E. Pippenger and W. H Pitlick he initiated important studies of the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of antiseizure medicines in the neonate. The first of numerous studies characterizing seizures, their treatment and outcome in the neonate were also initiated with colleagues Pat Crumrine and Ira Bergman. Others would be added to this group, including Marc Scher, in the continued productive investigation of treatment of seizures in the neonate, culminating in a particularly important paper in the New England Journal of Medicine comparing head-on the incomplete efficacy of both Phenobarbital and phenytoin.

Durable alliances dedicated to improving clinical care and research and steadily enlarging the child neurology section at the University of Pittsburgh was to be an important and remarkable achievement of Dr. Painter after his appointment as Chief of the Child Neurology Section at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in 1978. During the ensuing 24 years as Chief, his ability to participate with others and set practical and achievable objectives that resulted in the establishment of one of the finest sections of child neurology in the country resulted in considerable degree from the loyalty he universally cultivated. This loyalty is likely to have derived in considerable degree from the interest he showed in developing the careers of all who were associated with him and from his early critical decision to place the largest resources available to the division – those deriving from electrophysiological procedures – in a common fund for section development. This permitted flexibility needed not only for recruitment but career development.

One among numerous important examples of this was the flexibility it permitted his colleague, Ira Bergman, to change his concentration and enter with particularly noteworthy achievement the developing field of child neuro-oncology. Dr. Painter was also a remarkably successful advocate for child neurology with particular skills at attracting both institutional and community supports for program development. He skillfully navigated the often treacherous waters between Departments of Neurology and Pediatrics, achieving equal support from both and protecting the slender and previous resources that a Child Neurology section could generate. He also instilled in his section not only a sense of cooperation that permitted flexibility in career development and other unexpected occurrences, but a communal commitment to the teaching mission of the section. His unfailing congeniality, sense of fair-play, good humor – characteristically expressed in smiling “one-liners” that lighten the mood when needed – and practical optimism have greatly enhanced his effectiveness.

This eventuated, in due course, in several excellent results. One was the achievement of a remarkably high standard of neurological care for children. Another was an admirable degree of collaborative research with individuals in a wide variety of departments and sections of the medical center. Yet another was an educational program reaching into the early years of medical education and universal faculty availability to medical students that may account for the particularly distinguished record of the University of Pittsburgh in attracting medical students to careers in child neurology; it stands, according to recent data, second among all medical centers in the United States. One further, not inconsiderable achievement, was the establishment of a very busy and productive training program in child neurology that became admixed with the establishment as well of an NIH-supported program for training of young child neurologists as neuroscientists.

Dr. Painter’s own research has produced more than fifty peer-reviewed papers – as first or senior author in two-thirds. Topics of these largely clinical reports include not only neonatal seizures and neuropharmacology of infants and children, but a broad variety of neonatal neurological conditions, including both the antecedents and outcome of brain injury, cerebral palsies and their treatment, neuroimaging, metabolic and toxic diseases, intracranial hypertension, stroke, neuro-oncology, neuro-infectious diseases, congenital defects, migraine, brain trauma, and others. He has authored more than thirty chapters, employing this work to serve in yet another way as mentor to the many individuals he has trained and to foster their career development.

He has had a strong interest and has made distinguished contributions to the broad spectrum of neurodevelopmental disabilities. In 1976, the first of numerous grants for which he has served as P.I was concerned with developmental disabilities, the second with prevention of mental retardation. It is therefore not surprising that he played a key role in the development of a new sub-board in neurology: Neurodevelopmental Disabilities. The creation of this sub-board and the development of a test for competency is the natural result of the desire of a highly committed individual with exceptional organizational and educational skills trying to improve effectiveness of efforts to manage so important a set of clinical problems. The results include another characteristic “Painterism” – achievement of collaboration under a single identity that will in addition foster cooperative research. His efforts, and those of a number of like-minded individuals, have produced the very real possibility of unification of the professional identities of individuals who currently carry the distinctive labels of “child neurologist” and “developmental pediatrician.” Dr. Painter is also a member of the Part I Board Examination Committee of the ABPN and has long-term experience as a Part II Examiner.

Dr. Painter has delivered more than sixty invited lectures nationally or internationally. He has served on five editorial boards including Neurology, Pediatric Neurology, and Journal of Child Neurology. He has served as reviewer for an additional ten. He has done yeoman’s duty on committees at the University of Pittsburgh. He has served on NIH Site Visit Committees. For Professors of Child Neurology he has served as Chair of the Membership Committee, Councillor, and President. For the CNS he has served on several committees, as Councillor from the East, and as President. He is currently Vice-President of the Child Neurology Foundation.

Dr. Painter is a devoted family man. His other interest includes gardening, fishing, and woodworking. He has made dressers for each of his six grandchildren. He used to love to play racquetball with the child neurology fellows. He is greatly interested in the military aspects of the Civil War and possesses a broad knowledge of that along with a vast number of other subjects.