Edward B. Singleton, M.D.
Teacher, Clinician and Chief Emeritus of Radiology,
Texas Children’s Hospital

Dr. Edward B. SingletonWhen he was 5, he wanted to be a cowboy. When he was 7, he wanted to be a fireman. But when it came time to decide his life’s course, he wanted to be like his father. And so the great medical tradition begun by Dr. Albert O. Singleton continued with his son, Edward.

Edward Bivens Singleton was born to Albert and Will Dean Bivens Singleton on October 22, 1920. The family had deep Texas roots: his father was from Waxahachie, his mother was raised in Corsicana, and his paternal great grandfather, John Hawkins Singleton, fought in the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836.

Edward Singleton’s brother, Albert Jr., was five years older and had contracted polio at age 14. Albert’s physical activities were limited, and he spent much of his time on scholarly pursuits. Edward felt he had to match his brother scholastically and worked hard to achieve high grades. He describes himself at that time as being “a real nerd.” Both brothers would go on to graduate from UTMB.

a young Dr. Edward B. SingletonEducational achievement, however, did not get in the way of baseball, which was young Edward’s passion. The Galveston Buccaneers were his heroes, and he himself played for the Moody Club. One of his fondest memories is hitting a home run against the state champion Texas Rattlesnakes and being carried off the field in triumph by his teammates.

Like many young men of his age, Edward Singleton longed to serve his country during World War II. Much to his surprise and dismay he was told that he, along with 10 percent of his class, was ineligible because of tuberculosis exposure. Ironically, after he finished his residency and began his practice, he was drafted and sent to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska. Finding himself alone much of the time, he decided to write a book on a subject of great interest to him: diseases of the alimentary tract in infants and children. It was a subject few had written on and it opened professional doors for him in years to come.

Dr. Edward Singleton had hoped to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a surgeon. But due to his TB diagnosis, he was advised that surgery, with its long hours and extra night work, would be too demanding. He instead chose radiology, and in 1951 completed his residency at the University of Michigan under the mentorship of Dr. Jack Holt. Dr. Holt had been Albert Singleton’s roommate when he was in surgical residency at Michigan, and had himself a deep interest in pediatric radiology—a challenging field that required getting accurate diagnostic images from patients who were often less than cooperative. The young Dr. Singleton had learned that two combined hospitals were being built in Houston—Texas Children’s Hospital and St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital—and decided to try his luck by applying for a chief’s position. He got the leadership job at the under-construction hospital, starting down a professional road few chose to tread in those days.

Dr. Edward Singleton in front of plaqueIn 1954 he became professor of radiology at Baylor College of Medicine and a short time later had become a professor of radiology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. That same year he co-authored an article published in the journal Pediatric Radiology describing a rare and newly recognized condition called Singleton-Merton syndrome, a growth disorder characterized by decreased bone density, an enlarged heart and dental abnormalities. Six years later, he became a professor of radiology at Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Edward Singleton is known among his peers for his energy, optimism and achievements. He attributes that partly to ego, partly to innate ambition, and partly to his desire to emulate his father’s efforts and character. He has found writing and publishing tremendously gratifying, likening it to giving birth. In addition to the many journal articles he has written, he has also published three major books, including texts on the use of radiology to diagnose digestive tract problems in children and an atlas of pulmonary abnormalities in children.

While writing has been important to him, Dr. Singleton believes that teaching has been his most lasting and important contribution to medicine. In recognition of this he has received the Corbin Robertson Distinguished Teachers Award and the Distinguished Faculty Award from Baylor College of Medicine. He’s enjoyed his association with bright young people over the years, and he seeks to instill in those he mentors a sense of medicine’s history and the importance of careful physical examination, thoughtful deduction and differential diagnosis. He feels modern-day radiologists would do well to study the life and times of Wilhelm Roentgen—and perhaps even learn that UTMB faculty used an old Singer sewing machine (among other parts) to help construct the first X-ray machine in Texas in 1896, just months after Roentgen announced his groundbreaking discovery.           

Dr. Edward Singleton and friendDr. Singleton has earned his share of honors over the years. As a junior medical student he was elected to Alpha Omega Alpha. He was a 1980 recipient of UTMB’s Ashbel Smith Distinguished Alumnus Award, the university’s highest medical alumni honor. In 1991 the Society of Gastrointestinal Radiologists awarded him the Walter B. Cannon medal for his outstanding contributions to the field, and in 1992 he was recognized by St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital as a Distinguished Physician and presented with an endowed chair in his name. In November 1995, he was presented the Radiological Society of North America’s highest honor, the Gold Medal, given for long and outstanding service and his pioneering work in pediatric radiology. In addition, he has received the gold medal from the Texas Radiology Society, the American Roentgen Ray Society, The American College of Radiology and the Society of Pediatric Radiology.

While Dr. Singleton appreciates all the many tributes given to his father, he realized that recognition had never been publicly bestowed on another important figure in his life: his mother, who was a 1912 graduate of the university’s John Sealy Training School for Nurses. In early 2005 he established the Will Dean Bivens Singleton Professorship in Pediatric Nursing in her memory.

Those who work and study at today’s UTMB liken the university to a family. In fact, four generations of the Singleton family have ties to UTMB’s School of Medicine—from Albert O. Singleton Sr., to Edward and older brother Albert Jr. (who graduated in 1939 and later joined UTMB’s surgical faculty) to a nephew, Dr. Albert O. Singleton III, who received his medical degree from UTMB in 1973. Now, Edward Singleton’s grandniece, Terrell Singleton, is attending medical school on the Galveston campus. And so continues a tremendous medical tradition.

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