Faculty Interview: Stephanie Rogers, MD
A Conversation with Stephanie Rogers, Assistant Professor in the Division of Geriatrics
Where were you born and raised? Tell me about your family, please.
I was born in a small town in Central Illinois called Metamora into a Mennonite family, so religion was a strong component of my childhood. I have an older sister and a younger brother and we lived on a lake, so our lives revolved around swimming and boating. My parents still live in the same house.
My brother lives in Los Angeles and my sister splits her time between Memphis and London because her husband is a lute player and the market for 17th-century music is in Europe. She has a PhD in Musicology and is based out of Memphis, so she travels to London during the summer, often with music students from Rhodes College. We each play two instruments, the first we began around age 3 and the second at age 5. We were known as the Rogers Family String Trio and played at weddings, churches, and nursing homes. I play the violin, piano, and flute, and we all sang. I currently play in the San Francisco Civic Symphony.
Was medicine always your intended path?
Medicine was always my intended path but I was a rather late bloomer, did have a lot of other interests, and didn't go to medical school until I was 29 or 30. I spent some time having fun, working in public health, and traveling and playing music. I did triathlons and enjoyed biking, swimming, hiking, and camping. I spent 6 months in Peru and 2 in Indonesia—I prefer traveling for longer amounts of time.
Is it true that reading for 10 minutes every morning added up to 18 books this year? What types of books did you read, and was there one that elicited a strong response?
I do this thing called "The Miracle Morning" based on a book about what makes people happy, including reading, journaling, meditating, and writing. I get up an hour early and spend 10 minutes doing each of those things. I like reading fiction but prefer non-fiction, and I'm always looking for how to do things better, whether it's conflict resolution or managing people. My favorite this year was Getting Things Done by David Allen. He talks about reorganizing your life and putting everything, both your personal and professional concerns, in one place and working efficiently by evaluating your values, such as family or health, and taking constant check-ins to ensure that your actions reflect your focus so your time is concentrated where your values lie. I use an online system called, "Trello", which is on my phone, and I can focus on what I need to do but also disconnect when I choose. It has taken so much anxiety away because I can prioritize the most important things.
How do you explain to a layperson the difference between geriatrics and gerontology? What drew you to working with older patients?
Gerontology is the sociology of aging, the psychosocial factors, and geriatrics is the medical subspecialty, the clinical understanding of aging. In treatment, they are interconnected but only geriatricians can prescribe medication. I was drawn to geriatrics during residency, when it was offered as an elective, and recognized how often I work with older patients, and something just clicked. We concentrate on the big medical picture, of course, but manage each patient as a whole and tailor their treatment toward what they value. For example, if their goal is to be able to take a walk outside every day, we try to keep their blood pressure stable enough so that they can accomplish that goal without feeling dizzy or lightheaded. I always loved working with older people - they have amazing stories, they know what they want, and they have so much life experience. I enjoy being around them. One of my biggest areas of interest is in ageism. It happens in the real world, in society, and in medicine, too; because people are old, there is a perception that there is nothing to do and we in geriatrics struggle with this constantly. Just because you are 90 doesn't mean that someone shouldn't have a treatment or meet their goals—we try not to overtreat or undertreat. Every older person should be treated separately and based on factors other than just their age.
How challenging is it to find on-site personnel to communicate and comfort patients from backgrounds for whom a hospital is a terrifying place?
It is very challenging. One of the reasons that I enjoy working on the ACE unit, Acute Care for Elders, is our multidisciplinary team. We as a team—a geriatrician, plus physical and occupational therapists, pharmacists, chaplains, bedside nurses, hospital teams—review an organized checklist for each older patient that includes socialization, social isolation, or support. Who has visited? Has family visited? Do they have family? What language do they speak? We try to pinpoint what services are available and what we can do to help. We've also grown our volunteer corps to have volunteers available for the mornings and afternoons; we recruit volunteers who enjoy being around older people. It has been helpful for everyone on the team to understand what social issues are going on with our patients. We also have an ACE activity room to try to encourage patients out of their rooms with group exercise classes, musicians who play small concerts, and we hope to soon start social lunches, so that even if staff cannot always join, the patients have an opportunity to meet one another.
Is it true, as the Kaiser ad with Steph Curry notes, that you "Train the mind. The body will follow?" How do you train for triathlons?
That quote is exactly right: it is all mental effort. I've done a few Half Ironman competitions and, in fact, plan to compete in New Orleans with Marcia Glass in October. It is a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, and 13-mile run, and it takes me about 6 or 7 hours. I break the course down into small components beforehand, then bite off small chunks and focus on each; then, it is easier to grasp. I began with a simple question: could I? During training, I listen to lots of music and podcasts, even medical literature, but of course not during competition. I don't want anyone to think that I am even remotely fast; I compete for the challenge and to finish.
I would imagine that food is important to staying in top shape. What is your all-time comfort food and one that still makes you grimace in distaste?
I don't think about what I eat at all, although I try to eat all the colors of the rainbow every day. I just want an eating style that is sustainable, although I've tried some pretty strange diets. I love ice cream and anything chocolate. Scrunchy face? Any seafood. I've never even tasted seafood, like shellfish, octopus, shrimp, crab. Oysters? No way! Maybe it's the consistency but I can't get over the idea of it. I lived for 5 years in New Orleans and people were always daring me to eat seafood.
Other than running, what do you do when you are not on service? What constitutes a really good weekend or getaway?
I camp and hike, and I love the beach. I love reading The New Yorker when I can find a warm beach to lie out. I enjoy trying new restaurants with friends, like La Pizzeta in the Inner Richmond, but it's hard to get into because it's so small. I am not a good cook, which is such a disappointment to my mother, who is a great cook. When I visit, she makes my favorite Oreo ice cream dessert casserole. She is known for her cookies and makes hundreds of trays for Christmas, which my dad then has to deliver to friends and neighbors.
What stereotypes do you plan to shatter as you age? Although retirement is a million years away, how do you foresee that time of your life?
I think the stereotypes that exist, that aging and growing older is not any fun, are not necessarily true. Yes, there are things that come with it, like joint pain, but studies have shown that as people age, they often become happier. I find that older people have a good sense of their values and know what they want, who they want to spend time with, and I look forward to being like that. I don't know what I might do but I am sure that I will travel, maybe have a garden and grow food, hike, and still be physically active.
Have you seen any of the movies that are out now?
I also want to see more movies! I saw Ladybird on opening weekend at the Tower Theater in Sacramento. Every time a Sacramento scene, like the Tower Theater, came on screen, the audience erupted in cheers—it was so much fun. I love coming-of-age stories and complex family dynamics. I never saw the older Star Wars movies, and was always confused about the saga, but I did see the most recent Star Wars movie and think I've got it now—and, I really appreciated the diversity of the cast, love that!
Thank you, Stephanie.