Member Spotlight: Andrew I. Schafer, MD


AAIM Member Spotlight

Jacqueline Darcey, MD

Andrew I. Schafer, MD

Richard T. Silver, MD,
Myeloproliferative Neoplasm Center at Weill Cornell

How long have you been a member of AAIM?

I joined AAIM (as an APM member) in 1989 when I became vice chair of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, and Chief of Medicine at the Houston VA Medical Center, the largest VA hospital in the country. I continued to be involved as Chair of the Departments of Medicine at Baylor, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and then most recently at Weill Cornell Medical College. I retired as Chair of the Department of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College a couple of years ago.

Describe your typical day.

I was recently appointed Director of The Richard T. Silver, M.D. Myeloproliferative Neoplasm Center at Weill Cornell, a state-of-the-art translational research and treatment center dedicated to bringing cross-disciplinary expertise and cutting-edge methods to bear on these rare and often fatal blood cancers.

I can say I’ve never had a typical day and I suspect my colleagues would say the same thing. Every single day of my career has been unique. Yes, there are always regularly scheduled committee meetings, but rarely do they take up the entire day. The rest of the day, for an academic physician, is free form. This can create pressure in one’s career because it’s during these unscheduled “golden periods” that you are expected to be productive - supervise research labs, meet with collaborative colleagues, write grant applications and papers, and prepare lectures and any one of a dozen activities. And, it is up to you to prioritize them.

An academic physician has to be able to make best use of these “golden periods.” In many ways, how one uses golden time is what differentiates those who go on to very successful and productive careers from those who don’t.

What is your favorite part of the job?

It’s the ability to reinvent your career to accommodate shifting interests and experiences most of us have over the course of our professional lives. But of course one has to have the opportunity and find the resources to support that. It is the flexibility to contribute and make an impact in so many different ways, and to do that at points in your career when you are in the best position to make such contributions. My career has personally allowed me to redirect my focus and it’s this flexibility that’s allowed me to make a difference.

A good example is now – after 25 years of being a chair of medicine at three different medical schools - I can now pursue things I’ve really aspired to do and think I can best do at this time. I’m deeply immersed in medical education and lead new curriculum development. Throughout my career I’ve done basic laboratory research but never had the opportunity or ability to complete the translational research continuum to the bedside by doing clinical trials. So now I am learning how to do clinical trials and already heading up a couple of new interesting studies. I am also seeing more patients and providing longer term care, which being a Department Chair didn’t allow me to do.

How has the AAIM membership been of value to you and your career?

It’s provided me with an irreplaceable group of individuals in academic medicine who I look up to and actually like. AAIM has allowed me to learn organizational and fiscal skills that we certainly didn’t study in medical school. In addition to the camaraderie and the ability to share experiences and learn from peers, I received a formal educational experience at AAIM.

What's your favorite moment of your career so far?

The favorite moment in my career occurred about six years ago, when as chair at Cornell, I was able to assist a medical resident who was interested in a highly competitive specialty fellowship. The student was not at the top of the class but had applied to numerous institutions for a fellowship. When Match Day arrived, we were all shocked to learn that the student didn’t match. This was completely unexpected as the student had applied to a large number of “safety” institutions. I had no doubt the student would be matched. Needless to say, the student was virtually inconsolable.

So, I cancelled some meetings and spent the next several hours working and discovered that one of the most prestigious institutions had an unfilled spot in this subspecialty. The institution was (and is) so renowned and competitive that our resident didn’t even apply to it as a “reach.” I quickly made the call to the program director who, in turn, convened the entire fellowship selection committee and hour later to interview me (since of course they had never even seen this resident). I guess I must have made a strong case for why the fellowship committee should consider the resident because I was then put on hold for 5 minutes, and then informed that the resident had been granted the position.

Fast forward three years later… I happened to be giving medical rounds at that same institution. I was sitting in the front row after my lecture, and then the department had its annual awards ceremony, this having been the final Grand Rounds of the year. When they came to the Fellow of the Year award in the entire department, my former resident was called up. I had even forgotten this individual was doing a fellowship here. After accepting the award at the front of the auditorium, my former resident immediately approached me, eyes filled with tears and gave me a warm hug. It doesn’t get much better than this! But you have to put in the effort.

What was your childhood dream job?

I always wanted to be a historian, but I guess I was hard wired to be a physician. To be a historian just wasn’t a practical career decision, as my relatives and parents repeatedly reminded me. The dream of being a historian has not been completely extinguished, however, because I am currently spending weekend nights finishing a historical novel. It’s a medical murder mystery that takes place in Vienna during the mid 19th century. I’ve travelled to the relevant locations where the story takes place, searched original archives, and I am now working to finalize it with an editor’s input. I am under strict instructions from everyone to not spill the beans…so stay tuned.

How do you spend your free time?

I love all sports, especially soccer and in fact I played high level soccer in England as a schoolboy. Now I am just a fanatic fan. My wife and I greatly enjoy opera and travel to many places. I am an avid reader and often read three or four books simultaneously.

What’s one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

I would say amongst my many flaws the most crippling one is my complete inability to multi task. This has been a life-long problem, so I presume it’s not a degenerative disorder. My children have been relieved to figure out that it can’t be a hereditary one either because they can’t think of a worse disability to have. I have not been able to process more than one thing at a time. I managed to muddle through this, undetected, through three chairmanships at three medical schools…doing one thing at a time . . . so it can’t be as bad as my children claim.