Celebrated Physician: Pamela Paufler, MD
Who is Dr. Paufler?
Many physicians have pursued other careers before entering medicine, but the path Pamela Paufler, MD took to becoming an attending Critical Care physician at MedStar Washington Hospital Center was, literally and figuratively, somewhat circuitous.
After earning an electrical engineering degree from MIT, the Charlotte, N.C., native began working in semiconductor development for a manufacturer of pacemaker and defibrillator products. Uncertain about making the field her career, Dr. Paufler happened upon a fortuitous opportunity to shadow some physicians, gaining some clarity about her future in the process.
Why Choose Medicine?
“I decided I liked what they did better than what I was doing,” Dr. Paufler recalls. “As I’d planned to go back to school anyway, I took the prerequisite courses to get into medical school.”
Dr. Paufler earned a medical degree at the University of Minnesota Medical School, followed by a fellowship in Critical Care Medicine at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, and another in Cardiovascular Surgery Critical Care at Johns Hopkins Hospital. As she pursued her training, the parallels between her once and future careers were evident.
“Engineering and medicine are both about solving problems—what’s going on and why, and how to make it work better,” Dr. Paufler says. She adds that the sense of immediacy associated with treating some of the hospital’s sickest patients was likewise appealing.
“I like the pace of doing a test, getting a result and using that information to make a change if needed,” she says.
But surgical critical care is much more than dealing with black-and-white, if/then outcomes. There’s also the human aspect, working with family members who must often make difficult post-surgery decisions for patients unable to speak for themselves. As such, Dr. Paufler believes maintaining open lines of communication is critical.
“It’s essential to explain treatment options and outcomes in plain terms, and empowering them to make good decisions with the patient’s best interests in mind,” she says. “We want them to know that whatever they decide, we’re rooting for them.”
Dr Paufler’s dedication to helping residents and fellows understand the intricacies of surgical critical care was recognized after her first year at the Hospital Center with the Keystone Education Award for resident education. Now, she’s leading several quality and performance improvement initiatives at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute’s Surgical Intensive Care Unit.
Life Outside the Hospital
One constant in Dr. Paufler’s life is her love of competitive and offshore sailing, a sport she’s pursued since age 12. She also enjoys swimming and travel, with her most exotic adventure being a visit to the Galapagos Islands. “The wildlife is unbelievable,” she says. “Each island is better than the last.”
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