January 17, 2020

Stephanie Patterson, MD: Breaking barriers

When it comes to choosing a specialty, our faculty inspired by their mentors become the inspiration for the next generation

Dr. Stephanie Patterson University of Michigan Medical School

Stephanie Patterson, MD, grew up a little over 60 miles from Ann Arbor in East Lansing, but she set her sights on attending the University of Michigan. Once she got here, she never left, attending medical school, completing her residency and now serving as a faculty member in the Department of Radiology.

Here, Dr. Patterson answers eight questions about being a lifelong Michigander and full-time Wolverine.

You have been at U-M for your entire educational and professional career. What ties you to this institution?

When I was growing up in East Lansing, I was always aware of the intense rivalry between Michigan State and Michigan. Michigan was looked at as the pinnacle of college education, not just in the state, but in the nation. So when it came time for me to go to college, being the youngest in my family, my parents were in a good place to support me financially and encouraged me to reach for Michigan.

Michigan sets high standards. I was definitely challenged academically here, but I proudly met those challenges. And I am always working and collaborating with great scientists and clinicians who are drawn to Michigan for its strong academics and research. I have made the University of Michigan my own and being a native of Michigan, I feel I represent a proud Wolverine.

In addition to your work with trainees in the Department of Radiology, you’ve also participated for several years in SimFest, an event hosted by our Office for Heath Equity and Inclusion that includes information sessions and clinical simulations for medical or pre-med students attending the Student National Medical Association annual conference. What appeals to you about being a medical educator?

There is no question that being an educator keeps you honest. No faking it here. The learners at Michigan are inquisitive and are able to sometimes see things you don’t. It keeps me on my toes, and I’m always soliciting feedback about what worked, what didn’t work. This in addition to keeping up with the advances in my field.

My contact with medical students, undergraduates and sometimes even high school students at SimFest keeps me focused on the long term. They often aren’t even aware of what a diagnostic radiologist does. Seeing that awareness and “aha” moment about how broad reaching our specialty is is something I really enjoy.

At what point in your medical education did you decide to specialize in Radiology and why did this specialty appeal to you?

When I was in middle school, my best friend’s mom was a medical student at Michigan State University, which was unusual for women at the time. They had moved from another state for the express purpose of her mom attending medical school. Usually, the family moved for the husband’s work or school, not the other way around. That had an impact on me and seeing myself in that space of medicine.

My only other interaction with medicine when I was growing up was limited to general medicine doctors, for example my family doctor whom I saw once a year for checkups. So, when I was finally in medical school, I assumed internal medicine was the way I was going to go. But when I was rotating through internal medicine in my third year, I realized that I really wasn’t satisfied with micromanaging primarily chronic health problems and not necessarily seeing immediate outcomes. Then I remembered the pre-clinical lectures presented by the diagnostic radiologists, how my interest was piqued by the breadth of knowledge they needed and how the work never seemed boring. Radiologists really have to know a lot of what other specialties need to know in order to consult and communicate with their clinical colleagues, and that appealed to me.

How has this specialty changed over time, and what would you say to med students who are considering a career in radiology?

The classic image of the diagnostic radiologist is a man (usually) sitting in a dark room looking at black and white images, talking into a dictaphone. But, one of the things that attracted me to it was what interventional radiologists do. I did research as a medical student with an interventional radiologist who happened to specialize in uroradiology. They were treating a renal condition that would predispose people to developing kidney stones through percutaneous (through the skin) means using x-ray guidance. Many conditions that were once considered surgical, now interventional radiologists can treat.  

Our technology contributes to 3D printing and can assist surgeons in their surgical approach. In my specialty, Breast Imaging, more and more we are taking on the role of primary care physicians as we are often the first clinician to diagnose and recommend treatment for a woman’s breast problem. Digital imaging, breast MRI and constantly improving ultrasound technology allows us to be more sensitive in our breast cancer detection. As a diagnostic radiologist, you can help advance the technological as well as the clinical aspects of radiology.  It won’t be boring!

What do you see is your overall purpose/mission when it comes to educating future physician leaders?

I want to help them understand their roles as clinician scientists, to know what the “big questions” are and how they can be impactful in their patients’ lives.

How would you define your role as the lead for the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee in the Department of Radiology?

I largely see my role as the lead for our very large department as improving our recruitment practices, both at the resident and faculty level, and our retention rates by providing a welcoming and inclusive culture, and providing opportunities for education and understanding through faculty development activities.

What do you like to do outside of work?

Having been a soccer mom for a good portion of my daughters’ lives, I now really enjoy watching soccer games, at all levels (from college and local semi-pro teams to the Premier League). We have been fortunate enough to have been at the last two National Women’s Soccer League World Cup finals. I loved when my older daughter shared on her Instagram how proud she was to have been a part of women’s soccer after the women’s final victory this past summer (even if it was just at the high school level).

Also, I’m trying really hard to keep in shape myself by going to the local gym and taking walks with my husband and our dogs. My husband and I also like to partake in the local restaurant scene.

What is your advice for someone who is considering the University of Michigan Medical School for their medical education?

I think the key in medicine now, regardless of where you choose to go for your medical education, is the ability to adapt, as there is so much innovation happening. Be curious, keep asking questions. It’s always helpful to keep an open mind.