Irving Schulman, former chair of pediatrics, dies at 87

Irving Schulman

Irving Schulman

Irving Schulman, MD, chair emeritus of pediatrics at the School of Medicine, who played a leading role in the founding of Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, died June 11 of complications of pneumonia at his home on the Stanford campus. He was 87.

Schulman was recruited to Stanford from the University of Illinois College of Medicine in 1972. When he arrived, he found a small Department of Pediatrics that was only weakly associated with the Children's Hospital at Stanford. Over the next 19 years, Schulman built the department into a nationally respected hub for academic and clinical pediatrics, training many health-care leaders. In addition, he worked tirelessly with Lucile Packard and the local community to oversee the construction of a modern new hospital, and served as Packard Children's first chief of staff when the hospital opened in 1991.

"He was the chair of pediatrics at a very critical time," said David Stevenson, MD, vice dean of the medical school and one of many Stanford leaders whom Schulman hired as a young physician. "He set the stage, through the choices he made, for the tremendous growth and change that occurred with the building of Packard Children's. He helped create a unique children's hospital that has distinguished itself ever since."

Schulman was born Feb. 17, 1922, in New York City. He earned a BA in 1942 and an MD in 1945 from New York University. He interned at Queens Hospital and completed his residency in pediatrics at Bellevue hospital in New York City in 1949. Bellevue was also where he met a young lab technician, Naomi Zion, whom he wed in 1950.

Early in Schulman's career, as a faculty member at Cornell University Medical Center and Northwestern University Medical School, he distinguished himself as an expert in pediatric blood diseases. He conducted pioneering studies on idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, a common pediatric bleeding disorder associated with low platelet counts. He was one of the first to describe hemophilia arising from deficiency of blood clotting Factor IX in children. He was also among the first physicians to consider (now-routine) steroid treatment for acute leukemia in children. Schulman's research was recognized in 1960 with the E. Mead Johnson Award, a top honor for outstanding scientific achievement in pediatrics. In 1961, he became professor and head of pediatrics at the University of Illinois, until moving to Stanford.

At Stanford, Schulman's compassion, quick wit and encyclopedic knowledge of pediatrics soon made him a respected teacher and administrator. "He religiously met with the residents once a week, and they presented cases to him," said Bert Glader, MD, professor of pediatrics in hematology-oncology, whom Schulman hired in 1977. "It was one of the highlights of our residency training."

Schulman's commitment to medical education led him to chair the committee that designed the first licensing exam for pediatric hematologist-oncologists in the mid-1970s. There are now about 2,000 licensed practitioners in the discipline; the number on his license is #2. He also was among the first educators to allow women medical residents to job-share a residency position so they could have time for their own families.

Soon after arriving at Stanford, Schulman recognized that the existing children's hospital, built as a convalescent facility for tuberculosis, would not meet modern needs. Mrs. Packard and he began planning a new hospital, traveling the country to look at designs and seeking input from community groups. "His greatest legacy is this children's hospital on the Stanford campus which is both a superb family-centered place for taking care of sick children and part of an incredible academic arena for advancing children's health," said Harvey Cohen, MD, the former pediatrics chair who succeeded Schulman in 1993. "He was a stickler for doing the best for children."

While building the department and Packard Children's, Schulman remained a pediatrician first. "He loved babies and children," said Ann Arvin, MD, another Schulman hire, now vice provost and dean of research. He made rounds on the wards nearly every day, she said, taking a personal interest in even the tiniest infants. And his clever, dry sense of humor was extended not just to the adults in his life, but also to his patients, recalled his son, John. "One-, 2- and 3-year-olds could be in the worst medical condition, and somehow Dad would get them to smile and laugh."

Schulman is survived by his wife Naomi, of Stanford; son John of Sherman Oaks, Calif.; daughter Margaret Miller of Mountain View, Calif.; sister Estelle Siegal of Woodbury, N.Y.; and grandchildren Jennifer and Joshua Miller of Mountain View. For those wishing to make a gift in his memory, his wife suggests the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health at www.supportLPCH.org or 497-8141. An online guestbook is available for comments at http://med.stanford.edu/mcr/2009/schulman/comments-guestbook.html. A celebration of his life is planned for noon Aug. 7 at the Arrillaga Alumni Center.