Provider Spotlight: Dr. Alan Silk, Neonatologist and Director of Nurseries at Inova Fair Oaks Hospital

Who or what inspired you?

My father inspired me. He was a pharmacist and owner of a small neighborhood pharmacy. He knew every customer and he knew their families. He took care of their illnesses and cared for them and about them – he treated them like they were his own. He had an amazing work ethic, working long and hard hours preparing prescriptions and still managing to run the business. He never brought the frustration and the physical exhaustion home. I’m still not sure how he did that, but he did. I learned a lot from that.

Why did you become a neonatologist?

I was drawn to Pediatrics even as a child, but chose Neonatology during my residency. All of my resident friends thought I was crazy, but there was something about caring for newborns that I found compelling. There was the immediacy of critical care; you could see the results of your work. It was physically, intellectually and emotionally challenging, but it was doubly rewarding, you were helping the babies and their families. There were heartaches, to be sure, but helping families through heartaches has its own reward. Like my partners, I love what I do.

How long have you been a neonatologist or NP? How long have you been with FNA?

I began to work for FNA right out of fellowship. It was 1987. I have been more than lucky to have worked at Inova Children’s Hospital and to have become the first director of the Inova Fair Oaks Hospital NICU.

What is your favorite thing about working with babies (or FNA)?

It is difficult to pick a favorite thing.  I am thankful for the privilege of doing this work. Every day brings a new challenge. If I had to pick one thing, I would say it is the way it extends the concept of family.  Working in the NICU, I have become very close to my patients’ families, we all are working with and for the health of the baby and we form bonds that can last years. There is also the extended family of the NICU staff, it is more than doctors and nurses, and it is more than a team, it is like a family. Finally, there is my FNA family, a wonderful group of professionals that treat each other with dignity and respect. We look after each other as we continually strive to provide the best care for our patients.

What would be your best advice for new parents or soon-to-be new parents?

Don’t be afraid, all of us have learned how to be parents while on the job. Lean on your parents and friends. Parenting is tough and kids don’t come with owner’s manuals. There is no one right way, but you will get through it.

How would you describe your care philosophy?

I am committed to being a compassionate and supportive partner to a team that is inclusive of the nursing staff, neonatal nurse practitioners and other specialists, but most importantly, includes the parents. NICU Care is a collaboration with the parents at the center. I am committed to making sure parents are frequently updated with the latest information about their baby and that they know they a critical piece of the decision-making team. I encourage them to spend as much time as possible with their baby. In our unit, the parents are intimately involved from their baby’s admission until the day of discharge. A good example of this approach is how we introduce the importance of using mother’s own milk and the concept of infant driven feeding as early as possible after the baby is admitted to the NICU.

Finally, for me, every baby and every family is different and every NICU admission is unique. With the parents we design a plan specific to the needs of the baby and family, and coordinate care with the family. To me, communication with the family and empowerment of the family is the essence of “Family-Centered Care.”

What do you like to do in your free time when you’re not helping patients?

Travel, travel, travel. Sometimes it is with our grown children, but Carrie and I have been fortunate to travel to many places. We try hard to always explore new locales. Rarely do we venture to the same destination twice.

Who is your personal hero?

Someone who uses their time, ability and fortune to put themselves on the frontlines to help people in need, not  for recognition or reward, but because it is their mission. Someone like Jose Andres, who is always traveling to disaster zones, to feed the hungry.

Learn More About Dr. Silk

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