Dr. Joel Silverfield Honored for Commitment to Patients and Medical Community
Tampa in the 1980s was not the easiest place for a young physician to start a medical practice and get credentialed at a hospital. But for Joel Silverfield, MD, a BayCare Medical Group internist and rheumatologist, the move to Hillsborough County was worth it.
In 1982, he had completed a rheumatology fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
“I was doing mostly research when my wife became pregnant with our first son. We started looking around for a place to practice nearer our families,” said Dr. Silverfield, who is from Alabama. “On a trip to look at Tampa, we left Minnesota at -10 degrees, and when we arrived in Tampa, it was 70 degrees. Enough said! That remains to this day the smartest decision we have made.”
The Hillsborough County Medical Association (HCMA) has honored Dr. Silverfield with its 2023 HCMA Outstanding Physician of the Year award for his dedication to his patients and his years of leadership in advocating for physicians and patients in the community.
The award is “meant to recognize an HCMA member who has gone above and beyond for the betterment of the organization and of medicine,” said Debbie Zorian, executive director of the 2,700-member HCMA, which has represented the physicians of Hillsborough County since 1895.
Dr. Silverfield earned his medical degree from Emory University and completed his residency and internship in internal medicine at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. He is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine with a subspecialty in rheumatology and is a member of the American Medical Association, American College of Physicians, Florida Medical Association and the Florida Society of Rheumatology.
He said he has wanted to be a physician for as long as he can remember.
“It was more of a calling than a job, as it was expected of a physician to sacrifice much of their own needs and desires for those of their patients,” said Dr. Silverfield. “I’m still amazed that people would ask me for advice and value what I would tell them. Your patients trust you with their deepest personal secrets, rely on you and look to you to do what is right for them, no matter what.”
Establishing and Growing His Practice in Tampa
Dr. Silverfield selected an office near St. Joseph's Hospital to start his practice after arriving in Florida.
“Back then, getting on staff at a hospital was hard,” he said, noting it took a year to get on staff because some established physicians weren't keen on competing with new physicians for patients.
Dr. Silverfield said he used to hang out at emergency rooms seeking potential patients. Some of those early patients referred him to their relatives and friends, and his practice grew. Over the years, he would serve as the physician for various local businesses, such as USAA, TECO and The Tampa Tribune.
He joined the HCMA soon after moving to Tampa.
“That was the best way to meet my fellow physicians from all over this area. At that time, when I was building my practice, it was important to have contacts and relationships with the more established doctors,” he said. “During my 40 years in Tampa, the HCMA has been a very important part of my professional life and provided me with so many friends and examples of what a doctor should be and how to interact in the community.”
Over the years, Dr. Silverfield has served the HCMA as chairman of its public service committee, as a past president and as a member of its board of trustees.
“The HCMA allows us to take care of our patients the way they should be cared for,” he said. “The HCMA always has the doctor’s back.”
He said he was shocked to receive the award “particularly when I look at all those who received it before me and the amazing contributions they made. To have received this recognition from my colleagues at this point in my career has enormous meaning to me.”
Zorian, who has worked with the HCMA for nearly 40 years, said Dr. Silverfield is “a very honest and dedicated leader who has always made rational decisions that are truly for the benefit of patients.”
“You value the respect of those whom you respect,” Dr. Silverfield said. “I’ve always been in the trenches, being the best doctor I can be, showing up every day and trying to help my patients navigate their illnesses and live their best lives. I’ve also tried to be a part of the Tampa community, serving on many school and community boards, and trying to be a worthy representative of my profession.”
Caring for Patients from All Walks of Life
When he was seeking patients for his new practice after moving to Tampa, Dr. Silverfield said he met a professional dancer named Honey Lee, who introduced him to some of her friends, carnival and circus performers in south Hillsborough County. He became their doctor.
“They were wonderful people. They had good hearts. They looked out for each other,” he said, referring to them by their stage names: the Bearded Lady, the Fat Man, the Alligator Boy, the Lobster Boy, the Man of 1,000 Faces and a sword swallower. “They were called ‘freaks.’ They had a rough early life.”
They lived in the Gibsonton area, and Dr. Silverfield became friends with the late Ward Hall, a sideshow barker who managed the carnival performers.
Dr. Silverfield also served as the physician for the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus for several years. He eventually gave up his “circus job” because he could not travel with them.
Mentoring the Next Generation of Physicians
Dr. Silverfield is committed to mentoring others, said Zorian, executive director of the HCMA. “He is a great volunteer not only to mentor the new members about medicine and how to become involved, he’s also a wonderful mentor for medical students and residents.”
“I have always taken on some medical students every year to work with me in my office. It is so important to help shape and mentor the next generation of physicians just as my predecessors mentored me," he said.
“Physician burnout is a major problem among our young physicians, in particular. Their time with me is not so much to learn scientific or medical methodology as it is to learn about the joys of medical practice,” Dr. Silverfield said. “The two most important qualities in a physician, in my opinion, are honesty and a good sense of humor. After 40 years, my patients have become my friends and are almost like family. We have raised our children together, consoled each other during difficult times. And I truly believe I have received far more from my patients than they have from me.”