Bringing innovation and vision to Pediatric Neurology
Dr. Steven Miller is the recipient of the 2023 James H. Graham Award of Merit
Steven Miller, MDCM, FRCPC, hadn’t planned for a career in Pediatric Neurology. It was an elective rotation in Ghana, while a medical student at McGill, that sparked his interest in the specialty.
“During my Pediatrics rotation in Kumasi, I met many children who presented to the hospital in coma due to malaria or meningitis. Watching their response to treatment and recovery over time was an eye-opening experience.”
The experience was the genesis of a stellar career in Pediatric Neurology, eventually leading to his current role as head of Pediatrics at the University of British Columbia. In recognition of his contributions as a clinician, researcher, innovator and mentor in the field, Dr. Miller is the 2023 recipient of the James H. Graham Award of Merit, given annually to a person whose outstanding career achievements reflect the aims and objectives of the Royal College.
After Ghana, he returned to medical school at McGill and immediately arranged an elective at the Montreal Children’s Hospital and “fell in love with Pediatric Neurology.”
Today, the field still amazes the world-renowned expert and scholar. “Our brains make us who we are, and I continue to find that, even at this later stage of my career, absolutely fascinating.”
In his Pediatric Neurology training, Dr. Miller saw many babies with brain injury and was often called to the intensive care unit to help guide families around what to expect for their future. He says two things were striking about those interactions.
“The first was that we didn’t have very good answers to the questions that families were asking us, and the second was that we were only really being called about that specific question late in a baby’s course.”
That prompted the young doctor to pay attention to where neurologists could contribute to a baby’s care much earlier in their intensive care journey.
Working with parent partners
Dr. Miller started working with parents as partners in care and treatment, which yielded better results for patients and families. Then he started involving parents in his research work.
“I asked families, ‘What could we do to help on the research side?’” He made a habit of asking parents what his research team should study next.
“The questions that they want answers to have really shaped the direction of our research in so many surprising ways.”
As a mentor, Dr. Miller emphasizes the importance of work-life balance and works to ensure the well-being of his trainees.
“Through his exceptional commitment to medical education both in the clinical and research settings, Dr. Miller has contributed to the growth and success of many young faculty, not only in Neurology but in other disciplines as well,” says University of Toronto neurologist Vann Chau.
“He has become a role model to us, inspired us and influenced our career paths. As we embark on our independent careers, we keep in mind what he taught us. When faced with a challenging case or uncertain how to provide the best care, we frankly think to ourselves, ‘What would Steven say to this family?’”
For Dr. Miller, the rewards of mentorship are unparalleled. “Being a mentor is hands down the most rewarding aspect of my career and I think my career path has shifted to leadership roles because of the joys of mentorship.”
Healing on the land
Dr. Miller has made important contributions to the health and wellness of Indigenous children and families in Toronto through a partnership with Native Child and Family Services of Toronto (NCFST). This includes collaborating on a pilot project that provides healing on the land.
“This pilot, which initially included services at three parks, has now expanded to support hundreds of Indigenous children across Toronto,” says Jeffrey Schiffer, executive director of NCFST. “The data generated and practices developed have also contributed to the purchase and development of NCFST’s own 4.5-acre campground – which will now offer trauma-informed land-based practice to hundreds of Indigenous children and their families from the GTA year-round.”
Dr. Miller says he feels very fortunate to have been engaged in this work as a partner. “It really taught me the power of crossing sectors – health, social work, the social sciences and education – to improve child health. Being part of that was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in my career.”
Looking to the future
When he reflects on current and emerging issues in Pediatrics, Dr. Miller says there is urgency for Canada to place greater focus on the needs of children.
“As a society, we need to attend to the health of our children,” he says, noting that COVID-19 increased the challenges facing children and youth, including mental health.
Of winning the James H. Graham award, Dr. Miller says he didn’t know he had been nominated.
“To be recognized by my peers in this way, I can’t think of a greater honour.”