Dr. Richard Towbin Awarded the 2023 SPR Gold Medal

The Society for Pediatric Radiology (SPR) has awarded the 2023 SPR Gold Medal to Richard Towbin, MD, FSIR, emeritus radiologist-in-chief of the Department of Pediatric Radiology at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. The most distinguished honor from SPR, the Gold Medal is awarded to pediatric radiologists and others who have contributed greatly to the SPR and the subspecialty of pediatric radiology as a scientist, teacher, mentor, and leader.

Dr. Towbin was formally recognized on May 16 during the SPR 2023 annual meeting in Austin, Texas. The award was presented to him by his son, Alexander Towbin, MD, the Neil D. Johnson Chair of Radiology Informatics; and Associate Chief, Department of Radiology (Clinical Operations and Informatics) at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

“This award is extremely gratifying. It’s somewhat unexpected, but it has special meaning, which is amplified by my son Alex presenting the gold medal to me. It’s extraordinary in every way possible,” Dr. Towbin said.



A storied career

Dr. Towbin is known as one of the first practitioners of pediatric interventional radiology; he pioneered minimally invasive procedures in children for more than four decades before retiring in 2019. As one of the first full-time pediatric interventional radiologists, he was a founding member of the Society for Pediatric Interventional Radiology (SPIR) and established the first pediatric interventional radiology fellowship, having trained numerous pediatric interventional fellows. In 2015, along with his colleagues, he published the first textbook in pediatric interventional radiology. Over his career, he served as chair of pediatric radiology at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Phoenix Children’s Hospital and established subspecialty pediatric radiology practices.

In addition to his latest Gold Medal from SPR, in 2019, he was awarded the Gold Medal from the SPIR, the society’s top honor. In 2021, he was the first pediatric radiologist to receive the Society of Interventional Radiology (SIR) Gold Medal, the society’s highest honor bestowed for excellence and lifetime achievement in pediatric interventional radiology, given to those individuals who have rendered exceptional service to the field.

“Personal recognition was never my goal, but it happened in spades, and for that I'm quite grateful,” he said. “I now have three gold medals, which is way beyond what I could have ever imagined. I'm thrilled that people can see what happens when you work hard for things you care about.”

Dr. Towbin has dedicated much of his career to mentoring the next generation of radiologists. He created and hosted the Pediatric Imaging Community at Applied Radiology with his son Alex and mentors University of Arizona medical students in a pediatric radiology initiative that combines mentorship and academic work.

“If you want to be great at anything, you can't be a one-person show. To be exceptional and make a difference today and tomorrow requires a lot of smart people working together. Developing that through mentorship and teaching is the hallmark of program development, and that's always been an important tenet for whatever I did,” he said.



Throughout his career, he’s seen technology become a vital tool for radiologists. Artificial intelligence (AI) is next on the horizon, but he doesn’t believe it will displace radiologists. “Imaging is driven by technology. AI will be essential, but it won’t replace the people,” he said. “A lot of medicine relies on the five senses, and it's hard to believe that AI will take over that. A person, not an inanimate object, has to be responsible for the decisions we make.”

Although he believes newly trained radiologists should harness the power of new technologies as they push healthcare into new territory, he also advises them to listen to the generations that came before them. “Learn from our experiences and then build on it and make it better,” he said. “I hope, more than anything, they enjoy the ride.”

Throughout his career, his many colleagues and patients have remained at the forefront of his practice. “Elevating care for children and their families has always been the highlight for me,” he said. “I’ve always worked to do the right things and make good healthcare choices for the children we treat. Pediatric clinicians are genuinely wonderful and inspiring to work with. The journey has been wonderful.”


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