James Stoller: An Interest in Many Disciplines
James Stoller, MD, MS
Despite a childhood interest in medicine which included making house calls with a physician uncle in Brooklyn, N.Y., and a summer job at a renowned endocrinology laboratory at Rockefeller University, James Stoller, MD, MS, chairman of the Cleveland Clinic Education Institute and head of Cleveland Clinic Respiratory Therapy, initially found himself considering a decidedly different career path.
“Though I had considered a career in medicine since elementary school, I actually planned to become an English professor in college,” recalled Dr. Stoller. “I had fallen under the spell of a fabulous college professor, and initially declared an English major in college with a plan to pursue this further. “
“That vision dissolved when I realized that I didn’t have the personality to do research in libraries with old tomes in solitude, and so declared a double major in biochemistry and then pursued medicine,” he said.
After receiving his MD from Yale University School of Medicine, Dr. Stoller spent his residency at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, and it was there that his interest in pulmonary and critical care medicine developed.
“Like so many of us, I had been impressed by some remarkable mentors whose paths I crossed, like Drs. Richard Matthay, Herb Reynolds, Gordon Snider, Regis McFadden and Roland Ingram, who were making contributions, seemed to exude enthusiasm for their work, and who seemed exemplary in a way that caused me to want to emulate them,” Dr. Stoller said. “Also, I enjoyed studying the physiology of the lung and the technical aspects of pulmonary and critical care.”
“Perhaps the final determinant was that in thinking about my life as a clinician, I felt it best to pursue a specialty based on the kinds of chronic illness that were most fascinating to me and for which I felt best able to care for affected individuals,” he added. “COPD was that chronic illness for me and finalized my decision to pursue pulmonary and critical care medicine.”
Several years later, Dr. Stoller received an invitation to serve as the co-primary investigator of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) submission by the Cleveland Clinic, which was seeking to serve as the data coordinating center for the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) Registry for Individuals with Severe Deficiency of Alpha-1 Antitrypsin.
“Our surprising receipt of the award shortly after my arrival at the Cleveland Clinic allowed me to interact with and to learn from many pulmonary luminaries like Drs. Gordon Snider, Gerry Turino, Sonia Buist, and Ron Crystal,” Dr. Stoller said. “This experience cemented my interest and longstanding commitment to research and clinical care in alpha-1 antitryspin deficiency.”
In 2001, Dr. Stoller received his master of science in organizational development and analysis (MSODA) from the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, where he currently serves as an adjunct member of the organizational behavior faculty.
“I completed the degree with frankly no intention of its affecting my academic career in pulmonary and critical care,” he said. “Yet, I was surprised, fascinated and delighted by the lessons of organizational development for life in an academic medical center, and I was then invited to serve in several administrative roles that allowed me to begin to think about leadership competencies and development in health care.”
In 2007, Dr. Stoller was named as the inaugural holder of the Jean Wall Bennett Professorship of Medicine at the clinic’s Lerner College of Medicine, an honor he especially values for its personal connection.
“I had taken care of Mrs.Bennett, a delightful lady, for years,” he said. “Her devoted husband, Joe Bennett, had accompanied her to visits and we got to know one another. When she regrettably died, he approached me with a desire to ‘help.’ Joe Bennett’s intent was to donate a chair in the hope that it would advance research and education in COPD.”
Moving forward, Dr. Stoller said he intends to continue exploring strategies to optimize the care of individuals with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, and to continue developing and studying strategies to enhance physicians’ leadership development.
“I see the latter work in organizational development as an attempt to contribute to medicine’s ability to navigate the challenging problems we face of cost, access, and quality by helping to empower colleagues’ leadership strength,” he said.
“I have always seen myself as, and strive to be, an academic clinician – someone who is respected for his clinical skills in an environment where inquiry, teaching and scholarship are also valued,” Dr. Stoller said. “I have been especially proud of my work to examine the efficacy of respiratory care protocols and of my work on alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. As with my being a member of the ATS in general, these research opportunities ‘hard wire’ interactions and collaborations with a number of fantastically bright and engaged colleagues, which is the joy of a career in academic medicine.”
“Overall, I am mindful that the directions of my research career relate to some serendipitous twists coupled with an interest in many disciplines, including clinical epidemiology, pulmonary and critical care medicine, and organizational development, and that I am the product of the admixture of these themes,” he added. "Frankly, I could not have predicted this at the outset of my career and am delighted for the surprise."