Dr. Silberstein Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

My first encounter with Dr. Silberstein was after a Fellow had prescribed a headache treatment plan for me at the Jefferson University Headache Center and needed someone to sign off. He rolled in on a chair from the room across from mine, asked if I understood and agreed, and then rolled back to his patient. “Nice to meet you too,” I thought.

My second encounter with Dr. Silberstein was during my first “Headache Camp,” (actually an in-patient stay at Jefferson University). He was covering the hospital during half of my visit. Each day he walked in with at least half a dozen residents in tow. He sat down, asked how I was and if I thought the treatment was helping. Each day he extended my stay a little longer until I reached a sustainable level of relief. Then he would tell me a joke and leave within 2 minutes of entering.

My most recent encounter with Dr. Silberstein was during this year’s American Headache Society’s Annual Conference in San Diego. He had just received the Lifetime Achievement Award, although he’s not done practicing. I hunted him down, reintroduced myself and told him I wanted to write about receiving this award. He was very gracious. Knowing that his time was precious, I exiting the conversation as quickly as I had interrupted him, pulling a “Silberstein,” on him.  However, throughout the day we ran into each other many times where he went out of his way to talk to me.

Many patients will tell you that he is curt, brash or even rude. I just thought he was busy, which could leave a patient feeling neglected, an unfair assessment of his work style. He studies charts before talking to you, he recaps your current state to residents and he is working on ground-breaking studies in the field of headache medicine. He doesn’t waste time, but he also doesn’t waste your time. As a sufferer himself, he understands that someone in pain often wants quick answers. He is busy, but not uncaring.


He published his first paper in 1970 on medical marijuana, a little ahead of his time. To date his name is on over 300 medical papers. He worked on the first Botox trials for use in headache prevention and defined categories of headache disorders that had previously been overlooked in the International Classification of Headache Disorders, the leading standard for diagnostic criteria.

According to the AHS press release, Dr. Silberstein is a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology, the American College of Physicians, and the American Headache Society, having served on the board as President, Treasurer, and Board of Directors member. He has served on the Publications, Scientific, and Education Committees and was Co-Chairman of the Annual Scientific Meeting.

Dr. Silberstein is an active member of the American Academy of Neurology and is Co-Director of the national and international Headache Guideline Project, in cooperation with the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research. He is Chairman of the Headache Research Group of the World Federation of Neurology and present Chairman of the International Headache Society’s annual meeting.

Award Acceptance Highlights

To say he’s busy is an understatement. When accepting the award, he shared that when he first started in medicine his wife told him his purpose in life was to “take care of patients,” and that’s always been his focus. He shared pictures of his colleagues over the years, travel photos and shots of his family as he said they were the most important part of his life. He was humbled by the award and credited his fellow pioneering headache specialists as influences and inspiration.

Taking Care of Patients First

The next day during a conference break, he sat down near me to talk to a neurology writer while I was updating the Twitter world on the latest study results. At one point he stopped explaining lidocaine and mexilitine to the writer and looked at me and said, “You have a migraine, don’t you?” “Always,” was my reply.

The writer asked how he knew? Dr. Silberstein said that he could see it in my eyes. I had been talking to my fellow writer prior to his mini-interview with the doctor. He commented he had no idea I was in migraine mode. Dr. Silberstein accurately said I was hiding the pain behind my business suit and friendly demeanor. He was right. There was an expiration date on how long I could “fake it,” but I thought I was hiding it well. Even during his interview, he focused on an actual patient to make his point.

To say Dr. Silberstein is busy does not do justice. His contributions to the specialty of headache medicine have been undeniable. He continues to lead new research and mentor those entering the field. I’m a fan. To read more about his Lifetime Achievement Award, see https://americanheadachesociety.org/lifetime-achievement-award/.

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