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Dr. Elizabeth Stoner: Demonstrating How a Medical Degree Offers Career Opportunities

"One of the fun things about medicine is that you can have more than one career," said Dr. Elizabeth Stoner, a member of Einstein's class of 1977.  Dr. Stoner should know; since graduating from the College of Medicine her various roles have included clinician, researcher, pharmaceutical executive and investor – all building upon the experiences she gained while earning her medical degree.

Dr. Elizabeth Stoner
Dr. Elizabeth Stoner
It wasn't until she received a Master's degree in chemistry and was conducting research at Rockefeller University that Dr. Stoner found her way to the medical field. "It sounds naïve, but working at Rockefeller really opened my eyes to medicine." Originally planning to continue her work as a chemist, the experience at Rockefeller led Dr. Stoner to make what she calls "one of the best decisions I ever made." She applied to medical school.

"At the time, Einstein was still a relatively new school and the excitement about that really attracted me," she recalled. "It was at the forefront of integrating community, service, public health and epidemiology into the curriculum in a way that wasn''t being done at the time, all with a focus on training caring physicians."

Another appealing factor was the diversity of the class, from ethnicity to gender and age. "The incoming classes at Einstein were about one-third female, as compared to 10 to 15 percent nationally," she said. "It was the combination of these attributes that led me to choose Einstein."

Following graduation, Dr. Stoner began the first of her medical careers, as a clinician specializing in pediatrics. "The two best pediatric residency programs in New York City were at Jacobi and Columbia. I decided to stay at Einstein because I felt that the opportunity for learning was enormous."

She continued, "I saw two possible options for my career, practice or academia, and I decided to pursue academia."

This led her to a pediatric endocrinology fellowship at Cornell University's New York Hospital and subsequent positions as an assistant professor of pediatrics and as a clinical associate physician.

"I was enjoying my work at New York Hospital and never intended to leave academia, but during the mid-1980s, academic medicine changed. Early managed care came in and there was a lot of pressure to teach and run a lab, in addition to your clinical duties."

While Dr. Stoner liked patient care and teaching, she found it difficult to do all three well, constantly being called away from one responsibility to attend to another. So, at the end of 1985, when was given the opportunity to move to Merck, a second career was begun.

Dr. Stoner, pictured second from right, was among the professionals offering insights into venture capitalism during a panel discussion on the topic held at Einstein this past spring.
Dr. Stoner, pictured second from right, was among the professionals offering insights into venture capitalism during a panel discussion on the topic held at Einstein this past spring.
"I knew that this opportunity wouldn't come again, and I had to try it," she said. "Clinical investigation had gone out of favor, replaced with molecular biology. Even so, during my fellowship and time as an assistant professor, I realized that it had become my passion. The position at Merck allowed me to design protocols to help understand metabolic pathways in patients, something that truly fascinated me."

Within a month, Dr. Stoner knew that she had made the right decision, "Merck was a great environment in which to learn and work." In fact, during her first 10 years at the pharmaceutical company, she also was able to continue attending clinic at New York Hospital.

She began her career at Merck overseeing the development of Proscar, a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor that shrinks the prostate gland. "It was very exciting to be part of that process because it changed the paradigm; it was the first medical therapy out there for the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia," she recalled.

Over 22 years, she moved up in the ranks at Merck, eventually heading global clinical development, responsible for the implementation of all clinical trials worldwide.

In 2007, she took early retirement from Merck, and it was then that the opportunity to work in a venture capital company came about. "The skill set and experience that you gain from medicine gives you a foundation that can be applied to so many areas," she said. Although she lacked prior experience analyzing technologies and advising colleagues on investments, she found that her skill set helped her to learn the field quickly.

Presently a managing director at MPM Capital, she noted, "I've found that my expertise is invaluable and I enjoy being part of the process. We are funding the technology that people will be using in 10 to 15 years."

In spite of the varied career paths she has taken, Dr. Stoner still feels connected to her foundation as a physician. "Every day, I remember that I am a physician. I feel that I still practice medicine daily, albeit in a somewhat unorthodox way."

When considering what advice she would give to others contemplating a possible move away from the clinic, Dr. Stoner said, "I spent the first year at Merck feeling guilty that I had left my patients and wasn't doing what I had intended. It took a year and a lot of introspection to realize that my contribution was having an impact on public health, even though I couldn''t see or feel it."

She added, "There are many ways to influence global health; you don't have to be the one providing care. While we need caring family practitioners and internists to assure good health outcomes, there are other ways to contribute, each of which is very important."

Posted on: Monday, September 26, 2011