Meet the PODiatrician

Meet the PODiatrician

Steve Silvestro, MD FAAP

Steve Silvestro, MD FAAP

A few months ago, I received an email from a pediatrician with an invitation to appear on his podcast. While Steve Silvestro was interviewing me, frankly I wanted to turn the tables and start asking my own questions about his approach. He’s both passionate and compassionate, and he’s a next-gen doctor working hard to figure out how to deliver pediatric advice to people all over the country. Check out the podcast we did HERE and read below if you want to learn more about Steve. I got my chance to interview him back…

Who are you and how did you wind up being a pediatrician?

I’m an endlessly curious, Harry Potter-loving guy whose day job and side gig both focus on helping parents feel less anxiety and more confidence as they raise their kids.

That’s what it’s really all about—empowering parents to raise their families the best they can. There’s so much noise out there, so much room for fear and self-doubt in modern-day parenting. You can’t scroll through your Facebook feed without being bombarded by posts and articles that say you’re doing it wrong. I want to be a sane, hopefully inspiring voice in it all, adding my own panache when I can. Alternating goals of being Albus Dumbledore and Sirius Black, though probably ending up a little more Arthur Weasley in reality.

I went to college with a head full of ideas about what I wanted to be. Then two things happened in my freshman year that changed everything. First, I had an engaging biology professor who really turned me on to the science of medicine. Then, in my spring semester, I got involved with the real Patch Adams—a story that involves me fundraising for his Gesundheit! Institute by wearing costumes like a coconut bra and grass skirt, or nothing but a barrel and a beanie…and eventually forming a clown troupe with him. That work with Patch—wearing red noses in hospitals, nursing homes, the metro—turned me on to the power of connecting with people.

I used to think that people go into a field they have some sort of issue with—that I became a pediatrician because I didn’t want to grow up. But now I realize that I became a pediatrician because I’m in awe of the way kids experience the world, and I want a part of it. As adults, we weigh ourselves down with self-imposed expectations, responsibility, dos and don’ts. But with kids, everything is out there—curiosity, joy, fear, courage, vulnerability. To see the world through the eyes of a child is to remember how to live—and as a pediatrician, I get to do it every day.

What’s your biggest parenting success?

I’d like to say that it’s the fact that my kids are generally kind and creative people, but I know that I can’t really take credit for that. As parents, we can plant the seeds, but our kids have to do the growing themselves.

No, one thing I’m quite proud of is something a bit smaller, but still important in my eyes—that instead of using screens in the car, my family listens to audiobooks. It doesn’t matter if it’s a trip to the grocery store or a 4-hour trek to see family in New Jersey. Instead of everyone checking out with their own devices, we get to bond and engage in a more entertaining way together.

What’s your biggest parenting fail?

Oh boy, the short list or the long?! That’s the funny thing about being a pediatrician and a “parenting expert”—it doesn’t mean that I make any fewer mistakes than anyone else, just that it’s my job to research the solutions and broadcast what works. 

The thing I am consistently working on is trying to diminish how often I raise my voice. It’s not a frequent thing, but it is something that eats at me every time I do it. I have over a decade of mindfulness practice and have taught mindfulness-based programs to medical students, undergrads, and parents. So I am self-aware enough to know that keeping emotions in check is hardest when I’m not being…self-aware. It’s when I don’t recognize that I’m stressed, or when I’m unaware that I’m catastrophizing my kid’s current behavior as a possible huge problem in the future, those are the moments that are hardest to be as mellow, as wise, and as “Dumbledore” as I’d like.

I’ve long held a philosophy that “you cannot teach what you have not learned.” But when it comes to being the ideal person we each want to be—and especially when it comes to parenting—I think it’s okay to recognize that we’re still learning each step of the way, that we are all works in progress.

What’s the most important piece of health advice you give? How about parenting advice?

My most important health advice and my most important parenting advice are actually the same: You need to take care of yourself so that you can better care for your kids.

Our natural reaction to this idea is that it’s bonkers. “Of course I’m going to put my kids first!” This mentality made sense when we were cave people and our life expectancy was maybe thirty. Our only job then was to make sure that the next generation survived so the species could keep going! Now, however, we’re going to live to be 80, 90, 100—and so not only do we need to take care of ourselves so we can last that long, we need to be the models for our kids and show them the type of life we hope they can lead. If we spend our entire lives playing second fiddle all the time, we’re not actually helping our children—we’re just dooming them to the same fate.

Making the effort to carve out time to nourish ourselves makes it more likely that we can face our families with as much wisdom and compassion as we’d like, and that we can be the parents and the people that we want to be.

Are podcasts the future of medicine?

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It’s safe to say that medicine is going to look radically different in the very near future. The technology we use in our everyday lives is going to seep into healthcare. Why go to the doctor’s office for pinkeye and expose your family to germs when you could just as easily get the diagnosis over Skype or a text?

I’d actually like to take it a step further: Do you need to go to the doctor at all if you have the right information, from a trusted source, there at your fingertips? Obviously, there are plenty of times that a doctor should be the person making the call. But let’s use the example of pinkeye—out of bacterial, viral, and allergic conjunctivitis, bacterial pinkeye is the only type that needs a prescription to treat. A pediatrician can distinguish between the types based on the story alone—I don’t need to examine a child to tell the difference, I only need to know what type of drainage you have and when you see it. So why can’t we teach a parent to do the same?

Much of what we pediatricians do isn’t very complicated—it’s just that we’ve invested time into learning it all. With my podcast, videos, and talks, I’d like to pull back the veil and take away some of the mystery of medicine—let people know when they really should be worried, when they can manage something on their own, and how to tell the difference. When done responsibly, empowering parents and kids to better understand their own health can only be good for us all.

The trouble is, as I’ve said, there’s a lot of noise out there. But with a podcast or a video series, you can tie the information you’re getting to a person—to a voice, to a picture. It makes the info a bit more real and, hopefully, trustworthy.

So yes, if the goal is to help people feel more confident in taking control of their health (which is, indeed, my goal), then podcasts are absolutely part of the future of medicine

Do you have a favorite episode?

The show has given me the rare opportunity to interview so many wonderful people. One of my favorite episodes was “How to Raise Empowered Children” with the incomparable Molly Barker. It was one of my early episodes and I was still trying to figure out my style. She spoke with me as if we were old friends, and I learned things from that conversation that have impacted both the podcast and my family to this day.

Molly is best known as the founder of Girls on the Run, a program for 3rd- through 8th-grade girls that combines fitness with inspirational lessons to help them better navigate the challenges of growing up.

She also writes a wonderful and poignant blog called Being Here, in which she so beautifully reflects on what it is to be a person and a parent. And her current project, The Red Boot Way, aims to improve discourse in communities by teaching compassionate, honest listening. All those touching insights came through in abundance throughout our conversation. We talked about helping kids figure out their values; giving them the strength they need to change the world; how parenting is “messy” rather than “hard”; and so much more.

One thing she said that really resonated with me was that she uses three phrases with her kids when they’re talking about big emotions: “wow,” “bummer,” and “I’m here for you.” The first two, she said, keep her from overreacting and cutting into her kids’ space, and the third let’s her children know she’ll love them no matter what. That flow of phrases lets her kids talk through and figure things out on their own, while also reassuring them that she’ll never leave them high and dry. I’ve begun to use these words with my own kids, and it’s amazing to see how effective they are.

Where will you be in 10-15 years? 

That’s a good question, as I still have a list of a half dozen things I want to be when I grow up!

My vision is to combine my passions of communication and creativity to have as positive an impact on the world as I can. There are so many exciting places that can take me. I’ve begun to advise friends who have startups in the health and parenting spaces, and I’d love to do more of that. But I also love connecting with people and imparting whatever bits of wisdom I’ve picked up from working with families and learning from experts along the way. So, I see a bigger future of talks and workshops down the road, perhaps a book or two if I’m lucky.

But my biggest thrill is connecting through creative content. Besides the podcast, I’m loving Instagram right now, and am really in love with video. In fact, a friend and I are in the earliest stages of creating a video series/show for young kids designed to teach them about health and positive life skills. I’m really excited about this one.

So, when I allow myself to dream biggest, that’s where I see myself: speaking, connecting, creating, in front of a camera—empowering parents and, hopefully, inspiring the next generation of amazing people.