Dr. Harbhajan Singh is a classic example of someone who has lived the American dream. Emigrating from India to Rockville Centre almost 50 years ago, he became a renowned doctor. On Feb. 10 he was honored by South Nassau Communities Hospital, which named its medical library after him.
Nearly 70 people attended the unveiling, including Singh’s family members, friends, colleagues and Rockville Centre Mayor Francis X. Murray. “I am so overwhelmed,” said the honoree. “I have friends here from 1955.”
Singh, 79, spent more than half of his 52-year medical career at South Nassau after joining the hospital staff in 1977. He served as president of the medical staff, chief of pulmonary medicine, director of the respiratory therapy department and chairman of the respiratory therapy committee.
While he was medical staff president, South Nassau expanded its ambulatory surgery unit, enlarged its holding area, created an outpatient dialysis center and introduced advancements in medical technology, including a CT scanner and a 3D diagnostic imaging system as well as microendoscopic disectomy, which corrects disabling spinal disc problems.
The speakers at the ceremony included hospital president and CEO Richard Murphy, and fellow doctors Adhi Sharma, Frank Coletta, Rajiv Datta, Stephen Onesti and a medical school classmate of Singh’s, Sharwan Bagla.
“Dr. Singh is an icon here at the hospital,” Murphy said. “If you look at Dr. Singh’s legacy and the quality of the medical leadership you just heard, he set the bar very, very high.”
Singh’s oldest son, Charnjit, known as C.J., a 20-year attending physician at South Nassau, also spoke, and expressed his family’s gratitude. “With profound humility, thank you for this incredible honor that my father’s name be on the outside of the library for many to see and hopefully appreciate his love the way we do,” he said.
At the front of the medical library on the hospital’s second floor, the new sign was covered by a black cloth. C.J. and Singh’s wife, Naginder, pulled it off to reveal a clear rectangular sign displaying Singh’s name, attached to a metallic base. His portrait is already hung on the wall of the library, just inside the entrance.
The library was previously named after Dr. Jules Redish.
“I can’t tell you how great this hospital has been, not only for him, but me,” Naginder Singh said of her husband. “It’s like family. It’s a wonderful place that has wonderful physicians.”
Singh, who was born in India, overcame homelessness and poverty to graduate from Amristar Medical College in Punjab in 1963. He settled in the U.S. six years later with Naginder, C.J. and their younger son, Sarbjit, and eventually completed residency training in internal medicine and a fellowship in pulmonary medicine. He is board-certified in internal, pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine, and opened a medical office in Lynbrook, specializing in pulmonary and internal medicine.
It was there, on Sept. 17, 2001, that he suffered a sudden brain hemorrhage. A physical therapist had just left the Hempstead Avenue building when he heard Singh scream through his office window. The therapist broke the window to get to him and called 911. Singh was rushed to South Nassau, where he underwent emergency surgery and remained for about a month.
“There were multiple times he could have passed away, but they saved him,” said C.J., who was supposed to have dinner with his father that night.
Singh, who was 63 at the time, no longer treated patients afterward, but he still visits the hospital twice a week to review medical charts and consult with other doctors. According to C.J., his father still reads medical literature and doctors’ reports. “He is a one-trick pony,” C.J. said. “Medicine, to him, was everything.”
Both of his sons graduated from South Side High School. C.J., 49, has his own gastroenterology practice in Rockville Centre in addition to his duties at South Nassau. Sarbjit, 47, is a professor of sports business at Farmingdale State College.
C.J. said he has always admired his father for overcoming his hardships to become a successful doctor. “He is the quintessential example of the American dream,” C.J. said. “He’s a guy who at one point in his life was homeless. He lived in a refugee camp. He made himself a brilliant physician just by his passion for learning and to set a great example for me, my brother, even all of his grandchildren for what hard work can really do.”