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Sharp Health News

Pediatrician by day, cloaked hero by night

July 21, 2016

Pediatrician by day, cloaked hero by night

Dr. Howard Smart (center) with members of the 501st Legion — a Star Wars costuming group — at Comic-Con International in San Diego. Although they sometimes dress as villains, Dr. Smart and his colleagues are heroes for children's charities.

When you think of someone who dresses in costume at events such as Comic-Con International in San Diego, what type of individual do you imagine?

At Sharp Rees-Stealy, we think of people like Dr. Howard Smart, department chair of pediatrics, and his colleagues at Sharp Rees-Stealy Rancho Bernardo.

It makes sense. Pediatricians are passionate about keeping children and adolescents healthy. And connecting with them on their level is one path to providing quality care.

Dr. Smart’s department has a tradition dating back 20 years of dressing up for patients at Halloween.

“Each year we pick a different theme,” Dr. Smart says. “One year we were all M&Ms. We have done The Wizard of Oz, a circus, superheroes, ninja and samurai, Star Trek, cowboys and sheriff. We’ve done Star Wars before and may again this year since The Force Awakens came out this year.”

There’s no doubt that patients enjoy the tradition. “The kids think it is great to have their picture taken with their doctor as Obi-Wan (Kenobi of Star Wars),” says Dr. Smart, with a smile.

It turns out Dr. Smart doesn’t hang up the Jedi cloak and let it sit in the closet until next Halloween. For a number of years, he’s been participating with Star Wars costuming groups — divided for historical reasons into the “good guys” and “bad guys doing good” — The Rebel Legion and the 501st Legion. The groups are made up of members from all professions and many of the same people are members of both.

They dress up as Star Wars characters to entertain kids, take photos and generate donations for charities. These groups have raised funds for Rady Children’s Hospital, Down Syndrome Action, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, Make-A-Wish Foundation and the American Lung Association. The groups have also taken part in the NICU Reunion at Balboa Navy Hospital for many years, as well as the Sharp Mary Birch NICU Reunion last year.

Even as a busy pediatrician, Dr. Smart says he participates as much as possible.

“We do it as often as we are asked, which amounts to a couple of events per week over the course of the year,” he says. “Kids and parents really enjoy it. We pose for many photos. Darth Vader and the Stormtroopers get the most photo action.”

When asked how long he thinks he will continue to dress up at work and for charity, Dr. Smart says, “I hope I never stop being a kid inside.”

For the media: To talk with Dr. Smart, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

This story was updated in August 2017.

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