One-on-One with Steven Miller

Dr. Steven Miller’s interest in science and humanism prompted him to study medicine. As a medical student, he travelled to Ghana for a research elective and was assigned to the pediatric ward of a large hospital. He vividly remembers watching children recover from being bedridden with malaria or meningitis to playing with a football in the yard mere weeks later. That experience led him to study pediatric neurology.

Following his residency in Montreal, Dr. Miller moved to San Francisco to complete a master of advanced science in clinical research and a postdoctoral fellowship in neonatal neurology and brain imaging at the University of California, San Francisco.

For the past decade, Dr. Miller served as head of neurology and head of The Garry Hurvitz Centre for Brain & Mental Health at SickKids and the University of Toronto. Since 2014 he was also an affiliate professor of pediatrics at UBC.

Now appointed head of the UBC faculty of medicine’s department of pediatrics, Dr. Miller plans to champion team collaborations with other departments in the Faculty, as well as inter-disciplinary partners across UBC and our community.

Who inspires you and why?

I am most inspired by the children in my family life and professional life. We recognize now more than ever that children are 25 per cent of our population and 100 per cent of our future. Ever since their early years, my children always asked “why?,” encouraging me to think ahead to the impact of our choices on the future.

Most recently, I worked with children, youth and families as partners in research through CHILD-BRIGHT, a network in Canada’s Strategy for Patient Oriented Research. These interactions are catalyzing better research questions – better “why’s” – across our entire network. I find our children’s future-facing lens on the world to be energizing.

For you, what makes UBC different?

UBC has an impressive culture of collaboration. The ability to collaborate with colleagues across the Faculty of Medicine, and with other faculties across the UBC campus is remarkable. This is especially important as I see exciting advances in child health occurring at the intersection of our specialities. This collaborative spirit also enables a life-course perspective to health, from our beginnings in utero through aging.

Best advice for students?

Engage with inspiring mentors and make sure they ask you the hard questions. Check out a recent podcast to see how I view the difference between supervision and mentorship. Also, remember the words of Professor Rita Levi-Montalcini, a pioneering neuroscientist: “I don’t believe there would be any science at all without intuition.”

First job:

My very first job as a teen growing up in Montreal, was lifeguarding. This job led me to competitive lifeguarding, an international sport that brings together swimming and fitness, with teamwork, communication and lifesaving skills – all important skills in my subsequent career.

Secret talent:

As someone who enjoys food from around the world, I am often working to improve my cooking skills. This has become a fun part of our home life – discovering new dishes from diverse cultures and enjoying them as a family.

What are your main goals or aspirations?

The best part of my job is supporting the career trajectories of the faculty, trainees and staff. The commitment of these individuals to advancing the care of children in B.C. – and beyond – is inspiring. My hope is that the department of pediatrics enables the integration of different approaches and perspectives. I see my role as championing team collaborations with other departments in the Faculty of Medicine, as well as inter-disciplinary partners across UBC and our community. I want to develop programs that help researchers, clinicians and educators work even more closely together to advance health care for children.

How do you like to recharge?

I recharge spending time with my family — whether on walks with my wife, soccer with my daughter, hockey with my son, playing ball with my dog. I am convinced that it is the time we spend together as a family that makes me effective in my professional life. I also love spending time outdoors and try to recharge most days with a run, bike or swim.

Favourite spot in B.C.

My favourite place to be in B.C. is skiing down the Blackcomb glacier. My everyday favourite spot in B.C. is Pacific Spirit Park – enjoying quiet time running under the trees.

Parts of this interview are adapted from this BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute article.

In 2022 Dr. Miller was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in recognition of his outstanding scholarly and scientific achievement. Watch his interview here.

Published: January 2023