By Karen Carr Keefe
Senior Contributing Writer
Grand Islander Dr. Stacey Schroeder-Watt has already zeroed in on a major goal as new president of the Erie County Medical Society.
“I already started on what I’d like to focus on during my presidency, which is really the active engagement and mentorship, sponsorship and coaching of the next generation of physicians coming up,” she said.
Schroeder-Watt began her year-long leadership role Oct. 12, becoming the seventh woman president in the medical society’s 202-year history.
“This past year, I helped put together a summer internship for our medical students to learn more about what advocacy means for their patients, for their specialties, to get engaged in the process,” she said. “We have medical societies that are closing – smaller societies – or merging together … to try to maintain their voices. And the voices of the physicians are getting dimmed and lost.
“It’s so important to have that advocacy piece, that part of really ensuring that our history – especially the medical society of Erie County, which has a very rich history of innovators of scientists, of fantastic physicians who were experts in their field – and that history should be not only be celebrated, but continued.”
She said she wants to keep guiding medical students, residents and junior faculty through training and into leadership positions in the medical society, and encourage them to be mentors, too. Her goal is to teach the younger professionals to be part of the solution and not just be passive observers of what happens around them.
“The voice of medicine and the voice of reason should be involved in the decision-making processes, and if we lose our medical societies, we lose that voice,” Schroeder-Watt said. “So, it’s really creating this pipeline or this really great thoroughfare for our physicians to learn the path that takes us into the future together.”
The Erie County Medical Society also is serving the broader community in a number of ways, including through education.
“The medical society is great in that we have a lot of specialists that serve in multitudes of the fields of medicine,” Schroeder-Watt said. “They have provided their expertise for outreach to our community members, serving as specialty presenters to junior members of the faculty or those who want to learn about some specialty disease processes or issues that really affect our Western New York and Erie County communities.”
Schroeder-Watt is chief of service for anesthesiology at Kaleida Health. She also holds the post as interim chair of the anesthesiology department at the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. She is also anesthesiology residency program director and pediatric anesthesiology fellowship program director.
Dr. Stacey Schroeder-Watt, seen then and now. In the photo on the left, she is seen throwing a discus while a student at the University of Florida. As a student at Grand Island High School, she was No. 1 in the nation in discus throwing and No. 3 nationally in shot put. In photo at right, she is seen in her office. She is chief of service for anesthesiology at Kaleida Health. She also holds the post as interim chair of the anesthesiology department at the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. (Submitted photos)
Schroeder-Watt said she would like to have physicians look out for the well-being not only of their own patients, but also those in their community, state and nation.
“We’re also advocating for the physicians who need support right now, to grow their practices, to get the resources they need to take care of people,” she said. “Because the physicians are also feeling that strain of trying to do a lot with a little. They’re trying to take care of the most patients they can with reduced reimbursements and their stress – and they’re pulling back. All that is doing is creating a shortfall of providers that further exacerbates the problems that people in our community are facing.”
There also are changing trends in health care that Schroeder-Watt is keeping an eye on, such as concierge medicine.
According to a 2020 report from NPR and the Harvard School of Public Health, more than one in five adults in the top 1% of the population pay an additional fee for direct access to their primary care physician.
This is a more exclusive form of health care that involves 24/7 physician access, same-day appointments and highly personalized, comprehensive care.
Of course, it comes with a cost. The study found that the average fee for membership in a concierge practice nowadays is between $1,500 and $2,400 annually.
“I don’t ever want to see that there becomes a two-tiered system of ‘You have it and you pay for it’ or you don’t have it and you get a lesser service or you’re not cared for in the same way,” Schroeder-Watt said. “We have to be mindful that we do care for the community and we are advocates for all of our patients to make sure that everyone gets the quality of care and they’re taken care of to the best of all of our abilities for all of our patients.”
“There is a huge exodus out of some of the service of medicine to just serve a smaller, affluent community,” she said. “But we do have to keep an eye on the community and service as a whole to make sure that we’re really keeping the essence of being a physician intact: They are to serve and care for people, and not just those that have the resources to get that premier service – but everybody should have access to health care.”
Early in her life, Schroeder-Watt showed the stamina and excellence in athletics that has carried over into her approach to a career in medicine. A 1992 graduate of Grand Island High School, she won a national scholastic indoor discus-throwing competition as a junior, and in 1992, she set a state discus-throwing record of 172 feet that still stands today.
“I’m a really big person into teams and working together,” Schroeder-Watt said.
That teamwork is a strength not only in her career, but also in her family life. Schroeder-Watt and her husband, George, have two daughters, Alex, 16, and Audrey, 14. The girls are involved in many activities such as clubs and sports.
“With that comes a lot of driving, and George has been great with getting them to all the places,” she said. And “being the absolute best Dad-taxi he can.”
“I have a great support system,” Schroeder-Watt added. “I have a family that really understands what it means to serve and the importance it has to not only the community here on Grand Island and Western New York and Erie County; but they also understand that that’s how they serve, is to help me be out there. … I’m incredibly proud of them.”
At first, Schroeder-Watt thought she would become a civil engineer. But when her grandfather became ill during her freshman year in college, she witnessed a heartbreaking lack of concern and regard from a doctor who was treating him. Her grandfather turned to her after the physician left his hospital room, and told her, “You could do better than that,” and encouraged her to consider becoming a doctor. After doing some research on what it would take, Schroeder-Watt said she decided, “For him, I’ll try.”
Since her decision to be a physician, she has pursued the career with passion and compassion.
“I also know that our time is limited. And if I could just help in small ways – in many small ways – and in many actions and attributes – that adds up – an impact and a footprint in the sand – that maybe the next person will be able to follow that footprint and go even further,” Schroeder-Watt said. “And they’ll be able to take what I’ve done and move the baton even further down the field so that we’re really getting somewhere.
“When you’re in a field of service, it takes putting yourself out there and doing more than expected. It’s something that should be driven from within. It’s a calling and you should really push yourself … the community needs you.”
Of her medical society presidency, Schroeder-Watt said, “I’m looking forward to the year and hoping I can make an impact.”