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In 2010, Wendy Stern, MD, had been running her private practice in Dartmouth, Mass., when she was struck by a car while cycling. She experienced a whiplash injury to her neck, which she initially thought would heal on its own. But when it didn’t, after months of icing, anti-inflammatory medicine, and physical therapy instructions, she learned she’d experienced an avulsion fracture of her c7 spinous process and a C6 radiculopathy to her right hand. In 2012, she had the first of several surgeries.
Explore This IssueJanuary 2020
“The recovery was just brutal; I couldn’t move my arms at all,” she said. “Having midlevel providers was a godsend … a physician’s assistant would go into all the patient rooms with me and would physically examine the patient and complete the medical record.”
Relying on her two colleagues made the practice work, “because we each subspecialized and were always working collectively for the best of our patients,” she said. But by 2014, she sold the single specialty practice, both because of market trends and because she knew, as the senior partner, she would be the first to retire. With new ownership came transition, including increased typing and documentation with the new electronic health records systems. Dr. Stern was working with a double crush injury to her right hand and with poor response from conservative therapies. She underwent a right carpal tunnel release but experienced a complication, a nicked nerve sheath, which rendered her right hand permanently hypersensitive and weak.
You don’t realize how physical our job actually is. It’s a lot of up and down, bending over, upper body movements, examining patients, and performing surgery—it’s not a desk job. I had to take it slowly and build up my endurance physically and emotionally. —Jayson Greenberg, MD
Despite the hospital offering several accommodations, including a scribe, specialized computer hardware, and no more call scheduling, Dr. Stern realized she could no longer perform surgery and retired from the practice in 2018, at age 59.
Dr. Stern now serves as president of the board of directors of the New England Otolaryngology Society and volunteers with the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery and the Massachusetts Society of Otolaryngology. “My heart and love is ENT; my brain is fine, and I remain active and I’m still determined to help,” she said.
“Developing integrity in your practice, developing relationships, building teams, or having partners—having that network allows you to zig and zag better,” Dr. Stern said, “You need to build relationships with your colleagues and give favors, because you are going to need to take them.”