A top doctor balances his home life with work, a formula that allows him to give more to his patients.
For a urological oncologist, it is safe to say that to work at Johns Hopkins is a close equivalent to starting for the Yankees: Not only is it a leader in its industry, but the world’s first prostatectomy was performed at Johns Hopkins more than a century ago by Hugh Hampton Young, the first chairman of the hospital’s urology department. Its third director, Patrick Walsh, MD—recognized as a pioneer in the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer—modernized the procedure in the late 1980s.
“Everyone who performs a radical prostatectomy today does it based on a template that was laid out by Dr. Walsh,” says Ted Schaeffer, MD, PhD, a urological oncologist at Johns Hopkins and director of the prostate cancer program at the hospital’s Brady Urological Institute. “Since then, it has been continually refined. More prostate cancer surgery has been performed at Johns Hopkins than anywhere else in the world, and it remains among the busiest surgical centers for prostate cancer worldwide.”
Dr. Schaeffer and the institute’s director, Alan Partin, MD, PhD, continue Johns Hopkins’s storied prostate legacy with a team of more than 15 urologists, dozens of clinical trials in motion, and cutting-edge diagnostic and treatment programs, plus a database of more than 20,000 prostate cancer patients that Johns Hopkins doctors monitor to better manage and understand the disease.
“One of the most distinctive features of our program is how we track and follow our patients’ cancer control and recovery from surgery,” Dr. Schaeffer says. “We walk on the shoulders of the men we’ve treated in the past to help us treat current patients better. Understanding how these men fared after surgery allows us to continually advance our surgical techniques and optimize our cancer control algorithms,” he says.
Dr. Schaeffer’s team specializes in advanced biopsy techniques and has developed a unique program that reduces complications from biopsies like infection. “We have also led the world in defining what it means to have an ‘indolent’ or non-aggressive cancer, and how to manage this type of treatment without surgery or radiation,” he says.
Johns Hopkins has the largest group of U.S. men with indolent prostate cancers who are safely managed with an approach called Active Surveillance, led by program director and urologist H. Ballentine Carter, MD. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Dr. Schaeffer has an international reputation for treating men with highly aggressive cancers. “In the past, we would not have thought we could help these men, but emerging data suggests they may actually benefit the most from surgery,” Dr. Schaeffer says.
How does one endure the 90-hour-workweek demands of being at the forefront of prostate cancer research and treatment? The trick, Dr. Schaeffer says, is staying as efficient as possible in his life pursuits. “When you think about the critical components of being productive and successful, you must have good nutrition and exercise to help with stress management. And I think you need a purpose in life. Mine is to help men with cancer. Sometimes that can carry a heavy burden, but conversely, when I help people I get a lot of my energy back from them. I enjoy that,” he says. “I realize that trying to make a difference is critical. Each day I try to drill down and ask myself, ‘What did I do today? Did I help men with prostate cancer?’ ”
The other key is to balance his work life with his home life, and Dr. Schaeffer wants to be as successful a doctor as he is a husband and father. When he is not at the hospital, he enjoys time with his wife, Andrea, and their three children, ages 6, 4, and 2, and the family tries to be as active as possible. The couple doesn’t regret temporarily putting on hold their former hobbies, such as hiking Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains, skiing, and traveling the world, in favor of activities the entire family can do together. “We still enjoy the essence of these hobbies, just on a scale that is compatible with three young kids,” he says. “We still go on hikes, but only two of the three kids hike on their own, and we carry the youngest.
“When I’m at home, I’m doing things with my family. I don’t have hobbies that I would do without my kids,” he says. “Our life is different now, but much more rewarding in so many ways.”
The Schaeffers live in the countryside outside Baltimore because it allows them to ride bikes or take two-hour hikes right outside their back door. Although Dr. Schaeffer’s international renown takes him abroad often, his trips are typically short so he doesn’t miss too much family time. “I hope to travel with my family in the future, but right now it’s a bit too complex,” he says. “I definitely envision reintegrating some of our former hobbies in the future, such as skiing or traveling. This winter our kids were learning to ski. We bike a lot; even my 2-year-old can ride, and I’m pretty proud of that.”
Dr. Schaeffer credits much of his success in life to Andrea, a master’s-trained nurse who he says put her career on hold to ensure they raised their children in a way that is ideal for their family. “I’m in a partnership with my wife, and she’s the anchor in our lives,” he explains. “Having her there for our children every day helps me help my patients. My wife is the critical component: She allows me to pursue my purpose.”