Matthew Silvis, M.D. '02: Keeping the Hershey Bears on the ice

Matthew Silvis, M.D. '02 (back, left) coordinates physical therapy for former Hershey Bears' player

There's a vast difference between professional athletes and weekend warriors—a disparity reflected in the way Matthew Silvis, M.D. '02, approaches the Hershey Bears ice hockey players and the rest of his patients.

Silvis is both the team physician for the Bears, the Washington Capitals' top affiliate, and the clinical services chief and medical director for primary care sports medicine at Penn State College of Medicine.

He might advise an amateur to give a sports-related injury months to heal. But usually not so for the Hershey Bears, for whom he has been the team physician since 2007. "It's essentially like athletic workman's compensation cases," says Silvis, who formerly was also the team physician for the Harrisburg Senators, the AA affiliate of the Washington Nationals baseball team. "Essentially what I'm trying to do is keep them healthy so they can continue to play at their best in their sport, which is their profession."

The most common injuries they suffer are concussions, hand fractures, groin pulls, knee ligament sprains and shoulder separations. "It's challenging work. When they get banged up, it's not as easy as telling them to take off six months. So we try to get them back in action as soon as it's safe"—without, he adds, ever being asked by the Bears management to unduly speed up a player's comeback.

Silvis, a native of New Bethlehem in northwestern Pennsylvania, first thought of becoming a doctor as a young boy when he watched his father go through cancer treatments. His interest in sports medicine developed out of his high school and collegiate sports career. He earned a total of 10 varsity letters in basketball, track and cross country at Red Bank High School, where he placed second in the district 400-meter run. He also ran that distance for the track team of Allegheny College, from which he graduated with a B.S. in biology in 1998.

At the College of Medicine, Silvis was particularly influenced by Kevin Black, the current C. McCollister Evarts Professor and Chair of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, and Dennis L. Gingrich, M.D. '76, professor of family and community medicine. From them he learned that, besides being a community doctor, he also ultimately wanted to pursue an academic teaching and research career. After completing a family medicine residency and sports medicine fellowship at Wake Forest University, he returned to Penn State with dual appointments in the departments of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation and Family and Community Medicine.

Now an associate professor in both departments, Silvis still works with Black, who is the Hershey Bears' team orthopedist. His interest in family medicine allows him to not only care for the Hershey Bears but also for their spouses and children. His sports medicine practice also focuses on non-operative conditions. "Eighty-five percent of sports injuries have a non-operative focus," he says, including stress fractures in runners, concussions in football, groin strains in ice hockey and soccer, eating disorders in gymnasts, and asthma in swimmers. 

As a runner himself, Silvis' current research focuses on the benefits of running barefoot, an increasingly popular trend. "If you run up on your toes, a lot of the force that occurs when you strike the ground is absorbed in your foot and calf muscles and you decrease the force that otherwise gets transmitted to your knees and shin bones," he explains.

Next year a dream he has nurtured for years will become a reality as he directs Penn State Hershey's first primary care sports medicine fellow. "I love working here, and I love the support and mentorship I receive," says Silvis, whose family includes his wife, Christine Silvis, M.S. molecular physiology '02, and their two sons. "My wife and I are Penn State people, and it's great to work for this university."