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Howard Panitch: Caring for Children & Carrying a Tune

March 2013 
Howard Panitch, MD

Howard Panitch, MD

By Hillel Kuttler

On any given day, Julian Allen, MD, chief of pulmonary medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, can hear his colleague Howard Panitch, MD, from his office. But rather than snippets of conversation, what Dr. Allen picks up is the sound of music.

“I share a wall with Howard, so I’ll hear him when he’s singing,” says Dr. Allen, who has worked with Dr. Panitch for the past 26 years, more than half of those at CHOP. “He knows every song ever written in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s.”

But more than his impressive repository of musical knowledge, Dr. Panitch is praised for his skills as a physician, researcher, and teacher.

Dr. Panitch, a Philadelphia native, is the director of Clinical Programs and the Technology Dependence Center at CHOP, as well as an attending pulmonologist.

With a ready laugh and easygoing demeanor, Dr. Panitch can easily be pegged as a “people person.” Asked what he enjoys about CHOP, he quickly responds: “Obviously we’re the best.” He then unleashes a hearty chuckle.

“It’s the kids,” he says, turning serious. “It doesn’t matter what their illness—they demonstrate great bravery and fortitude. I’ve got a special place in my heart for them.”

Dr. Panitch’s research involves lung function measurements in infants with respiratory failure to track how they adapt and how their lungs develop. He also conducts research on patients with neuromuscular weakness who require respiratory care.

Dr. Panitch also has a passion to share his knowledge with others. Dr. Allen recalls a telling incident that occurred at the end of rounds a few years ago. It was late at night, and Dr. Panitch was nearly out of the door when a group of fellows asked him about changes he made to a patient’s ventilator settings. Rather than suggest they talk the next day, Panitch hung up his overcoat and patiently reviewed his approach until the fellows understood completely.

“It’s not enough that he fixes what’s wrong with the child,” Dr. Allen says. “He’s training the next generation (of physicians), so that the next time, those fellows might make similar improvements in patients’ lives.”

The practice of medicine runs through Dr. Panitch’s family. In fact, his first inspiration for a career in pediatrics was his uncle Lee Sulkind, MD, a pediatrician in south Philadelphia. His grandfather was a dentist, and he has a cousin who practices neurosurgery. Dr. Panitch’s wife, Mary, recently retired from a 35-year career as a nurse specializing in oncology.

“My uncle was my first role model,” Dr. Panitch says. “Once I hit clinical rotations in medical school [at the University of Pittsburgh], I had no question that I wanted to be involved with pediatrics. It was what I wanted to do within the specialty that was the question for me.”

Dr. Panitch was urged into practicing pulmonary medicine by Sidney Gellis, MD, a giant in the world of pediatrics.

“I had investigated tubulin formation in cilia from a protozoan called tetrahymena as an undergrad, and I examined elastase production in CF patients,” Dr. Panitch says. “Dr. Gellis looked at this and suggested the common theme was pulmonary medicine. As a result, I took electives with George B. Mallory, MD and David M. Orenstein, MD. I completely enjoyed my studies with both leaders in pediatric pulmonary medicine and figured this might be a good thing to do for the rest of my life.”

Many years later, Dr. Panitch retains a passion for his work. “Children are a lot of fun,” Dr. Panitch says. “I have as much fun joking with them as taking care of them. But I also really like the people who work with kids. There’s a genuine respect for the patients and their families.”

Life in ATS
Member since: 1988
Primary Assembly: Pediatrics
Dr. Panitch has been a member of the ATS ever since his fellowship in pediatric pulmonology at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children at Temple University. Today, he chairs the ATS Assembly on Pediatrics. Through various positions in the Pedicatrics Assembly, he’s worked on establishing clinical practice guidelines for bronchopulmonary dysplasia, and more.

Volunteering in the Pediatrics Assembly has been a great way to communicate with people in our sub-specialty and a great vehicle for meeting people outside pediatric pulmonology who share common interests, like those who take care of adults with cystic fibrosis. – Howard Panitch, MD