Sara Schaefer, MD, MHS, is a neurologist who specializes in treating patients with movement disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, tremors, chorea, dystonia, and Huntington’s disease. She also evaluates patients who might benefit from deep brain stimulation surgery.
“What I enjoy about treating movement disorders is that there’s so much we can do to help patients—whether the solution is medication, deep brain stimulation, or botulinum toxin injections, among others,” Dr. Schaefer says.
Dr. Schaefer discovered the field of movement disorders as an undergraduate student conducting research at the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke. “I appreciated the fact that, as a doctor, you develop long-term relationships with patients and walk with them through the disease process,” she says.
As an example, one challenging aspect around the disease process for Parkinson’s patients is the anxiety that accompanies it. Patients experience drops in levels of dopamine (a neurotransmitter that affects mood) as a result of the disease. “A large part of being a good doctor is understanding the unspoken things that are coming into the room—the anxieties, fears—and bringing those to the surface,” Dr. Schaefer says. “Every patient needs something different.”
Dr. Schaefer highlights those differences to medical students and other trainees she teaches as an assistant professor of neurology at Yale School of Medicine. She is involved in research to create educational learning modules for physicians and neurology learners. “I’m trying to create material so that primary care doctors and even general neurologists can make informed decisions about whether to start medications or refer someone to a specialist,” Dr. Schaefer says. “This will help avoid delays in diagnosis—which happen too often.”