2017 Blue Bird Circle Award

Sidney M. Gospe, Jr

Profile written by Heidi Blume, MD, MPH and James Owen, MD, PhD


Sidney M. Gospe, Jr

Sidney M. Gospe Jr. was born in San Francisco in 1952 into a medical family. His father was an obstetrician/gynecologist, his mother was a nurse and both of his older brothers became physicians specializing in gastroenterology and rheumatology. While San Francisco in the 1960s churned in a rich pageant, Sid quickly developed a passion for the sciences, working in a pathology lab in high school and excelling academically. His hard work and keen intellect led to acceptance to Stanford University where he received both a bachelor of science and a master’s degree in the biological sciences. While at Stanford he developed an interest in the neurosciences and credits Professors David Kennedy and H. Craig Heller for introducing him to this rapidly evolving field which would become his life’s work.

After graduating from Stanford in 1975, he ventured across the country to attend Duke Medical School. As an MD, PhD student drawn to complex mysteries, he was immediately fascinated by neuroanatomy and, by the end of his first semester, he knew he wanted to become a neurologist. During medical school, out of respect for his father’s specialty, he tried to enjoy his Ob-Gyn rotation, but found that the singular bright spot during this time was after the delivery when he was able to care for the newborn. Pediatrics was his final required rotation and he was quickly drawn to this field. Dr. Darrell Lewis, a child neurologist at Duke, provided him with important guidance and mentorship. While at Duke, he earned a PhD in physiology and pharmacology, as well as his MD, in only six years. Following graduation from Duke, Sid completed his residency training in pediatrics and child neurology at Baylor College of Medicine, working with Marvin Fishman, Alan Percy and Dan Glaze, amongst others. Fellow residents Bill Dobyns, Huda Zoghbi and Tallie Baram added to the stimulating environment with a portion of his outpatient training occurring at the Blue Bird Circle Clinic for Pediatric Neurology at the Methodist Hospital.

Following his child neurology residency training in Texas he migrated to New York, where he was an Assistant Professor of Neurology, Pediatrics, and Pharmacology & Toxicology at the Albany Medical College for a short time before he was recruited to return “home” to the University of California at Davis in 1987. He was named the director of the Child Neurology program at UC Davis in 1989, a position he retained until his departure 11 years later, and quickly rose to become a full professor in 1997. During his 13 years at UC Davis, Sid focused his efforts on medical student and pediatric resident education. He received the Faculty Teaching Award from the UC Davis Department of Pediatrics four times, and was elected to AOA as a UC Davis Medical School faculty member in 1993. He also was able to continue his research in neurotoxicology, including important work on pyridoxine dependent epilepsy, helping to understand this disorder as a developmental neurotoxicological syndrome. He is most proud of that work (which he began in 1994 and continues with collaborators in Seattle and internationally), as well as his description of two disorders: X-linked myalgia and cramps (a dystrophinopathy phenotype) and manganese transporter deficiency.

In 2000, Sid left California to become the Chief of Child Neurology at Seattle Children’s Hospital and he was appointed to the Herman and Faye Sarkowsky Endowed Chair of Child Neurology at the University of Washington. Shortly after his arrival to Seattle Children’s he also became the director of the child neurology residency training program, and he maintained a leadership role in the training program until his recent retirement in the spring of 2017. When Sid arrived in Seattle there were five attendings and one child neurology resident per year. In contrast, at the time of his retirement, the program had three categorical child neurology residents per year and over 20 pediatric neurologists practicing in a wide range of specialties. Through all the herculean efforts required to inspire and lead this change, Sid never neglected the residency program, instead treating it as the crown jewel of his section. This is demonstrated both by the evolution of the training program under his leadership as well as the tremendous quality of the trainees he shepherded through the program.

Soon after his arrival in Seattle, Sid set to work to expand the training program to two residents per year – a change which was approved in 2003. Two years later he successfully negotiated with his colleagues in Pediatrics to make one of those slots categorical, with the second slot becoming categorical in 2011. Securing both educational space and funding for additional residents for their pediatrics and adult neurology training time required devotion, diligence and finesse. Dr. Gospe not only oversaw these changes but also was closely involved in all specific facets of negotiations and planning. His wisdom and support was crucial as we successfully applied for a permanent complement increase to three residents last year. Perhaps the greatest testament to his leadership of the residency program, however, is that it has continued to thrive as he has passed off the reins: he created a sustainable structure in the midst of a time of great change in graduate medical education.

In addition to his local responsibilities, Dr. Gospe has participated in a number of national child neurology activities including work with the Professors of Child Neurology, ABPN, ABP, CNS, CNF and currently as chair of the Child Neurology Match Oversight Committee of the CNS. In addition, since 2013 he has served as the Senior Associate Editor of Pediatric Neurology, and as a neurology editor of Pediatric Research since 2015.

In all things Dr. Gospe leads by doing rather than by dictating. He met with every single applicant to the residency program over the last 17 years. He developed the resident’s didactic curriculum, and actively participated by giving lectures that would become classics. Similarly, he was a constant feature in the resident’s continuity clinic, a frequent attending on the inpatient service, and he continually refined the structure of the teams and duties of trainees, making sure that education always took precedence over excessive clinical duties. As head of a growing division, he certainly could have relinquished some of these responsibilities to others. However, it is clear that educating trainees is the aspect of Sid’s career which gives him the greatest joy. Education was a prime consideration in any changes or faculty recruitments for the division. Outreach clinics in Alaska or remote parts of Washington State are seen as beneficial for patients, but also as opportunities for trainees. Charitable giving was solicited not only for research and clinical programs but also to provide support for educational ventures such as updating the residents’ library and salary support for additional training. Sid combines this devotion with a warm and wise persona and impeccable professionalism and unquestioned integrity. In addition to more formal duties, he also would always take the time to provide quiet and unquestionable support for his residents, faculty or staff during difficult times; over and over his actions proved that he truly believes that “family comes first”. He has made Seattle Children’s a safe, supportive and exciting environment for trainees to explore their passions and plan their future. He truly exemplifies the sort of neurologist that any of us would aspire to be, and perhaps more importantly, that we hope our trainees become.

In the spring of 2017 Sid officially retired from his position at the University of Washington, and he is now Professor Emeritus of Neurology and Pediatrics. His former trainees recognize how lucky we were to have been in Seattle during the “Sid years.” To begin the next chapter in his story, he moved from Seattle to North Carolina with Mary, his wife of 37 years, to be closer to his son, Sidney, the Third, a neuro-ophthalmologist at Duke, and his growing family. However, Sid and Mary will soon be dividing their time between North Carolina and Texas as their daughter, Jessica, a mathematics assessment specialist, and her husband are expecting twins this fall. He has marveled that he is now witnessing the magic of childhood development as a doting grandfather in a way he was unable to as busy resident and young father. Through the sharing of his gifts and the gift of his presence Dr. Sidney Gospe has left an indelible mark on our field. His patients will never forget him and those fortunate to train under Sid will continue to try to emulate him – and to pass along his lessons to their own trainees in turn.