Pediatric GI welcomes new division chief

Dr. Francisco Sylvester brings a zest for work that even makes Mondays bright.

Pediatric GI welcomes new division chief click to enlarge Francisco Sylvester, MD

Every Monday, a bright voice booms through the administrative offices of UNC's Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology: “TGIM, folks!”

Thank God it’s Monday.

It’s not a sentiment espoused by many in the working world of what’s easily the most loathed day of the week, but the man behind the motto sees it differently.

“Everyone is, has been or will be a GI patient,” explains Francisco Sylvester, MD, who assumed the role of chief of the division on Oct. 31. “We might as well start taking care of them from Monday on.”

Dr. Sylvester’s infectious happiness extends beyond his love for Mondays. His intense work ethic, smart business sense and soothing disposition make him a great fit for a division aiming to advance the field and offer the best medical care available.

And Dr. Sylvester has a very specific vision for UNC Children’s gastroenterology program.

“We aim to develop levels of service to best care for the children of North Carolina,” he says. “Similar to what we’ve developed with our IBD program, we want to continue expanding services as platforms for developing clinically relevant questions that inform our research.”

Inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), also known as IBD, are a current focus for the division. As the division grows, Dr. Sylvester hopes his faculty will pursue their clinical interests to further the team’s excellence in research.

Dr. Sylvester has experience matching clinical interests to research efforts, as his research has also focused on IBD. He’s studied bone health in children with chronic inflammatory diseases of the digestive tract and mucosal immunology of IBD. His previous grant sponsors include the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA), the Donaghue Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

“At UNC, there is a wonderful spirit of collaboration and resources that I plan to leverage to expand my research and obtain new funding,” he says.

Between running a busy clinical division, seeing patients at the Krispy Kreme Challenge Children’s Specialty Clinic in Raleigh and setting up a new research lab, one might think Dr. Sylvester has enough going on. But he also stays busy serving as the director of the CCFA'a PROKIIDS program and as a member of the CCFA’s Board of Trustees.

“I enjoy my advocacy work with CCFA,” he says. “It’s resulted in multi-institutional collaborative projects in both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.”

Civil service leads to a career

Dr. Sylvester was first drawn to pediatric gastroenterology as a medical student in Perú. Upon graduation, he performed his civil service in general medicine at San Juan de Dios community health center in Lima and then worked at the Instituto de Investigación Nutricional taking care of severely malnourished children in a clinical research setting.

“I was impressed by how simple interventions, such as clean water and nutritional practices grounded on science, made such a profound impact on the overall health of young children,” he explains.

Sylvester’s passion led him to complete training in pediatrics at SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn and later a fellowship in pediatric gastroenterology at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. Prior to joining UNC Children’s, he was in clinical practice at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and a faculty member of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.

“I was drawn to pediatric GI by the combination of clinical medicine, procedural skills, and opportunities for research,” he says.

Dr. Sylvester’s love for his work is what makes it easy for him to celebrate each day, including the unpopular Mondays.  

“You know the best thing about Friday?” he poses. “It’s only two days before Monday!”

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