Dr. Hardeep Singh, other awardees inspired by President Obama

It was announced in January that Dr. Hardeep Singh was one of the recipients of the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. He has now traveled to Washington, D.C. for the award presentation and a meeting with President Obama at the White House, an experience he described as humbling and inspirational.

Presidential Early Career Awards

The recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards in Science and Engineering. Dr. Singh is just behind President Obama and to the right.

“It was a great honor to be invited to the White House and to receive such a prestigious award,” said Singh, associate professor of medicine at Baylor and chief of the Health Policy, Quality and Informatics Program at the Houston VA Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness and Safety.

The award is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government to science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their careers. Singh received the award for his groundbreaking multidisciplinary research on missed and delayed diagnoses and patient safety improvement in electronic health record-based clinical settings.

Singh traveled to the nation’s capital for the award events with his two daughters, ages 12 and 14. They first attended the award presentation ceremony on the morning of April 14. Held at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the awards were presented by John Holdren, chief science and technology officer at the White House along with a representative from the government agency who nominated the awardee. For Singh, that was Dr. Robert Jesse, who is deputy undersecretary for health in the Department of Veteran Affairs.

The 102 honorees represent diverse scientific disciplines, including healthcare, oceanography, energy, geology and space science, among others, and Singh relished the opportunity to interact with many of the award recipients.

Following is Singh’s reflection on the rest of the day:

The afternoon of April 14th was something really special. That’s when we got to meet the President. We were invited to the White House and were welcomed by one of the ushers, who told us many stories about Presidential events at the White House. After a brief tour, we waited for the President in the East Room. This is the place where there are a lot of official dinners and banquets. It was cool to see Secret Service agents around. Some of us were afraid of taking pictures (cameras are not allowed) but others ventured and took their phones out. Nobody got in trouble, at least not that we saw! I managed to get myself photographed too.

“And then came the President – he got a big round of applause from all of us. He was a bit late, but quickly made a joke about why (Hint: something about another powerful world leader who was keeping him very busy of late). We were lined up for a group picture according to our height before he arrived, and it just so happened that I was positioned quite close to the President. He spoke to us for about 10 minutes on the importance of science, technology and innovation for our country and beyond. He emphasized the importance of nurturing scientists in all disciplines as well as having diversity among scientists. He was quite inspirational in terms of promoting science and encouraged us to remain on the frontiers of science and to keep pushing the boundaries of innovation and technology.

“Afterward, he shook hands with each of us individually. That was really the highlight of the day. It was a very humbling experience.”

Dr. Hardeep Singh at the White House

Dr. Hardeep Singh at the White House

See a video of the event at the White House. Fast forward to the 1:55 mark for the Presidential Early Career Award portion of the video, and also to the short segment at the end of the video. Read more about the event on the White House blog.

Singh said he does have one small regret – that he didn’t get a selfie with the President. “I hear that’s the thing to do these days,” he joked.

Only awardees get to meet the President. Singh’s daughters, however, managed to get an official tour of the Capitol building and on the next day, they took the official White House tour as a family.  The Singhs also visited other U.S. landmarks, including the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam and Korean War Memorials and the Smithsonian museum.

Singh’s work has received a lot of attention recently. His latest study on misdiagnosis was recently published and has been featured widely in the news, including on NBC Nightly News. See the press release on his recent study.

“Getting the recognition through the Presidential Award and in the media has been great for our work. This type of research has been difficult to do and remained underemphasized until now, even though it’s important to do for improving patient care, clinical practice and health policy. I’m glad to see it in the public eye.”

Singh expressed his gratitude to the Department of Veterans Affairs for supporting his nomination as well as to Dr. Laura Petersen, professor of medicine at Baylor and director of the Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness and Safety at the Houston VA. He also thanked the funders of his research and his multidisciplinary research team at the center.

“You don’t get this far without a team effort, and I surely have a great team around me.”