Charles Cummings was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Deerfield Academy in 1953, Dartmouth College in 1957 and the University of Virginia Medical School in 1961. He was an intern at Dartmouth, and completed a year of general surgery residency at the University of Virginia. Dr. Cummings was in the Air Force from 1963 to 1965, then entered residency training in otolaryngology–head and neck surgery at the Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, finishing the program in 1968.
Dr. Cummings worked in private practice in Boston and on the clinical staff at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary until the end of 1975, when he moved to Syracuse, New York, and became an associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery at the State University of New York Upstate Medical University. Two years later, he assumed chairmanship of the Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Washington, where he remained until the end of 1990, when he became director of the Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery at Johns Hopkins. He was chief of staff of The Johns Hopkins Hospital from 1997–1999. In 2003, Dr. Cummings stepped down as director. He was executive medical director for Johns Hopkins Medicine International from 2003–2011, and served as interim chair of the Department of Dermatology (2007–2009) and the Department of Orthopaedics (2011–2013). He returned to the Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery at that time as Distinguished Service Professor of Otolaryngology– Head and Neck Surgery and Oncology.
The author of 144 scientific papers, he was the founder and senior editor of the four-volume text, Cummings Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, now in its seventh edition, edited by Paul Flint. He has co-authored two surgical atlases, one on laryngeal surgery and another on surgical access and reconstruction in the field of laryngology and head and neck surgery. Dr. Cummings served as director of the American Board of Otolaryngology, as chairman of the Residency Review Committee and chairman of the Advisory Council for Otolaryngology to the American College of Surgeons. He is past president of the American Association for Academic Departments of Otolaryngology, the American Broncho-Esophagological Association, the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery and the American Society for Head and Neck Surgery.
Dr. Cummings has received numerous honors for his work, including the Chevalier Jackson Award (American Broncho-Esophagological Association), the Newcomb Award (American Laryngological Association), the Ogura lecturer for the Triological Society, the Hayes Martin lecturer for the American Head and Neck Society, the Daniel Baker Lecturer for the Triological Society, and others. He was presented with the 2009 Johns Hopkins Heritage Award and the Johns Hopkins Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2013. He was the recipient of the Walter Reed Award from the University of Virginia in 2017, and is an honorary member of many international head and neck societies.
Many of Dr. Cummings’ former residents and faculty are in meaningful academic positions or chairing departments of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery at leading academic institutions, a source of great personal pride for him.