Diedre Stegman: Healing a Person, Not a Disease
When Deirdre Stegman, M.D., joined the Palo Alto Medical Foundation on July 13, 1983, little did she know that she would go on to take care of her patients’ children and grandchildren. “My practice was 90 percent women because I was one of the few female doctors in internal medicine at the time,” says the doctor whose smile lights up the room. “Over time I’ve seen their spouses, extended family members, kids and some high-school-age grandkids … I’ve shared their joy over births and their grief over deaths.”
The secret to her successful multi-generation practice?
“I don’t refer to people by their ID numbers or their diseases,” she says. “I like to know their stories, their personal histories, their likes, their dislikes and what makes them tick.”
A favorite with the patients
For someone who had no intention of becoming a physician, Dr. Stegman has certainly flourished as one. “I had taken Romance Languages and Literature in college and was on my way to becoming a teacher,” she recalls. And then her adviser intervened. “I used to babysit for my adviser’s kids and she got to know me both as a student and a person. She would keep saying that I have the skills to become a doctor and I’d keep thinking she was crazy!”
In hindsight, the adviser knew something Dr. Stegman didn’t.
Eventually she changed her major to biology and took pre-med classes. There was no turning back.
Having graduated from Stanford University’s School of Medicine, she decided to become an oncologist, but “I also wanted to learn everything about everything,” she says. “And becoming a generalist exposed me to all kinds of things … it’s kept me going.”
Her passion for medicine coupled with the ability to put the person before the disease has established her status as a “favorite” among patients.
“Dr. Stegman is efficient, knowledgeable and friendly. I actually look forward to my physical,” says Sylvia Gartner, Dr. Stegman’s patient for more than two decades. “I had a doctor elsewhere who never really ‘saw’ me … but Dr. Stegman listens and has given me good advice over the years. Maybe it’s trite, but it feels like a partnership to keep me healthy and fit as I head into my 70s.”
Gartner’s sentiment is replicated over and over with patients, and Dr. Stegman feels honored and touched by their overtures. “It takes a lot of time to get to know each patient,” says Dr. Stegman. “But it’s important because each person is different. This is the joy of medicine: to help someone feel better and make that human connection.”
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"I like to know their stories, their personal histories, their likes, their dislikes and what makes them tick."