The story of how Dr. Michael G. Scheidler, the son of a mailman and the youngest of eight children, became one of the nation’s top pediatric surgeons is one of perseverance.
Though since high school the man who is now the UNLV School of Medicine Chief of the Division of Pediatric Surgery couldn’t see himself becoming anything other than a physician, that vision wasn’t always shared by educators.
“I wasn’t always a top student,” says the surgeon celebrated today for the intricate robotic surgery he performs on even tiny infants. “My high school teachers told me to be realistic, to forget about being a doctor. They were trying to be honest with me.”
It was a physician, Dr. Homer Wallace, who worked out of his modest Pittsburgh, PA home well into the later years of his life who turned on Scheidler to the practice of medicine.
Patients, most were hard workers but had little money to show for it, would visit the general practitioner’s home/office not only, say, to receive a prescription for high blood pressure, but also for his common sense advice —
cut back on the potatoes and gravy and you’re less likely to drop dead from a heart attack.
“He was definitely old school,” said Scheidler. “I think he was 80 or 90 and loved by his patients. I loved the way he helped everyone in the neighborhood. I wanted to be like him.”
Scheidler was in high school when he first met the doctor, who agreed to let the earnest teenager shadow him. “I saw myself becoming a family practitioner.”
Though a love for technology in the surgical arena eventually lured Scheidler away from a career in primary care, Wallace’s empathy for his patients has always stuck with him. “His respect for his patients, I’ll never forget that.”
He also won’t forget how teachers at his high school didn’t feel he had what it took to even pass a physics class. “They wouldn’t let me take it so I talked my dad into letting me take it during the summer at a community college. The way they taught science made more sense to me than the way it was taught in high school.”
Scheidler earned an “A” in the class, reinforcing his belief that he had the smarts to become a doctor. He got into a premed program at the University of Pittsburgh. When he wasn’t studying in the college library or in his room at home, he worked part-time in the Post Office to cover expenses.
He did OK in the premed program, but, by his own admission, wasn’t outstanding. “It took me a few tries to get into medical school.”
The failures, though hard on him emotionally, couldn’t kill his dream. “I couldn’t see myself being anything other than a doctor.”
He worked on a masters degree in neuroscience at Pitt to get better prepared. A professor changed his life. “He fine-tuned my analytical skills, taught me really how to think.”
Once accepted at the Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, Scheidler blossomed. The technical skills needed for surgery intrigued him so he began a general surgery residency in his native Pittsburgh. It appeared he would become a heart surgeon. “I liked the technicality of it all, the high stress, pressure, the really precise movements you must do.’
But during the course of that residency, he worked with Dr. John Adkins, a pediatric surgeon. Scheidler was so impressed with Adkins, with what modern medicine could do for children, that he decided to go into pediatric surgery, one of the most difficult career paths to pursue in medicine. It took him 13 years of medical school, residency and fellowships to become licensed in the discipline.
The field is so specialized that there are only about 400 pediatric surgeons practicing in the entire country.
After finishing a fellowship in Arkansas, Scheidler was invited back to Pittsburgh. “But I saw that there was more of a need in Las Vegas.”
Scheidler, the father of two children, loves working with pediatric patients.
“They’re so innocent. They just want to play. They look at you, want to know why they’re sick. They didn’t do anything wrong, yet they don’t feel good. It compels you to make them feel better.”
Scheidler has now been in Southern Nevada for 15 years, until recently only one of three pediatric surgeons in the area.
“I was on call for almost all of those 15 years, weekends, holidays, you name it. It really was getting to me. I almost got out. It was hard not to have time off. It got to be overwhelming. But I couldn’t see how I could leave so many kids without care in Las Vegas.”
Not long ago, he finally got two partners, Dr. Shirong (Sara) Chang and Dr. Stephanie Jones, who are also with UNLV Medicine. He says Las Vegas now has six of the specialists.
“It’s really taken a load off. Sara and Stephanie are fine pediatric surgeons and we’re doing robotic surgery, on places like the belly, esophagus and colon that you can only find at three or four other centers in the United States. Now I can enjoy what I love to do.””