Howard Snyder III, MD: Changing Lives

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The pioneering work of this world-renowned pediatric urologist has benefited legions of children.

PHILADELPHIA—Pediatric urologist Howard M. Snyder III has pioneered treatment for complex urinary tract and urogenital anomalies. He developed and taught one-step hypospadias repair to generations of students, and made progress in diagnosing and managing patients with undescended testicles. Yet, the 63-year-old professor and éminence grise at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine here is still keen to learn new skills inside and outside the operating room.

For example, when he was called to active duty with his Army Medical Corps reserve unit during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, Dr. Snyder jumped at the chance to serve. “We were going to do humanitarian surgery, but we also had to learn how to shoot M16 rifles and 9-mm pistols, perform convoy duty, and don gas masks in nine seconds flat,” he recalled in an exclusive interview with Renal & Urology News. “We had so much esprit de corps; we were ready to go.”

About a week before the unit's fly date, however, the Army decided it didn't need so much medical assistance and canceled its deployment to Nasiriyah in southern Iraq. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Snyder and most of his 530-person unit were sent home. “Our relatives were probably somewhat relieved,” Dr. Snyder says, “but quite honestly, we were disappointed.”

Of course, Dr. Snyder has always enjoyed a challenge. After graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1969, he was initially trained as a general surgeon, but he didn't hesitate to shift gears when he saw a chance to make a real contribution. During a two-year residency in pediatric general surgery at Boston Children's Hospital, Dr. Snyder spotted a void.

“About a third of the operations I did were major urologic reconstructive cases,” he relates. As he tried to figure out how to help his young patients, he would occasionally consult with senior pediatric surgeons, some of whom had world-class reputations. “I'd say, ‘How the devil am I supposed to fix this?' and they'd say, ‘Well, you might try this, or you could try that,' and I realized that they didn't know what to do, either!”


That experience convinced Dr. Snyder to go into what was then a largely uncharted field—pediatric urology. After working for a year at two hospitals in England—“the only place where people were doing serious training in pediatric urology”—he returned home only to find that he couldn't get a job. “In the United States; you have to be a board-certified urologist before you can perform children's urology,” he explains. “So I went to an AUA [American Urological Association] meeting and approached the chiefs of urology at Massachusetts General and The Brigham Hospital, told them my predicament and said I needed to get my boards in urology. Both of them immediately said, ‘When would you like to start?'”

Dr. Snyder went to The Brigham Hospital, and eventually was triply board-certified in adult general surgery, pediatric general surgery, and urology. He arrived at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) in 1980 and, along with his friend and colleague, the late John Duckett, MD, set up one of the country's earliest pediatric urology training programs. Now in his 26th year at CHOP, he says that program has educated “more pediatric urologists than anyplace else in the world.”
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