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Nurse turned cardiologist gets to the heart of the matter

By Kate Hartsel

Jane Schauer
Jane Schauer '76

Living past 51 was a milestone for Jane Schauer. Her father died suddenly from a heart attack at the age of 51, and his father died the same unexpected way at 61, so Schauer has reason for concern.

As a cardiologist with the Presbyterian Heart Group in Albuquerque, N.M., she knows the risks her family history poses. Wanting to know why heart disease had so affected her family and hoping to learn how to prevent it were among the factors that compelled her to become a cardiologist.

Schauer’s interest in medicine began at UW-Eau Claire, where she earned a nursing degree in 1976. And it was the nursing program, Schauer said, that made her realize that her undergraduate degree was just a starting point in her education.

“I remember being told by the dean that we were chosen to be in that competitive program because we were expected to go on to more education and to become leaders,” Schauer said. “That always stuck with me.”

As an undergraduate she also encountered the first of many mentors. Berniece Wagner, then a professor of nursing, was the first. Her example, knowledge, ethical standards and integrity set a tone of excellence Schauer said she would always remember and strive for in herself.

As a freshman, she also learned an important lesson from Archie Wilcox, her chemistry professor. He failed her on her first chemistry exam.

“He scared me,” Schauer said. “After the exam, he had me in his office for a talking-to, and he impressed on me that I had to develop the habit of studying, which I never forgot. I think I finally made it through his class with an A.”

Following graduation, Schauer’s first job was as a staff nurse in obstetrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in Milwaukee. After observing medical students there, she began to think she could do what they do. After a few years, she married and moved to Madison, where she began working in the neonatal intensive care unit at Madison General Hospital (now called Meriter Hospital).

While at Madison General, she worked with fourth-year medical students and interns. She said she knew as much or more than they did when they started, but as they would progress in their studies they would make a jump in knowledge and leave her behind. Schauer began to want to make that leap in knowledge too.

When Schauer was 26, her father died, and everything changed.

“I wanted to learn more about the heart and health and why all of this was happening to my family,” Schauer said.

Schauer began to work on a doctorate in exercise physiology and volunteer at the cardiac rehab program at Meriter Hospital, where she later became director of the inpatient program. To earn money while in graduate school, she also worked as a research study coordinator for the cardiologists at the UW-Madison Medical School.

The cardiologists, impressed by her work, encouraged her to go to medical school. At the same time she also was conducting research at the Enzyme Institute, which is part of UW-Madison’s biochemistry department. The institute’s director, Henry Lardy, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, encouraged her to pursue a career in medicine. The strong support helped Schauer overcome any doubts she had about her abilities.

Relying on her mentors’ strong endorsements, Schauer applied and, at 36, was accepted to medical school at UW-Madison. She completed her residency with a cardiology fellowship at UW Hospital and Clinics.

Dr. William Miller, her mentor during her cardiology fellowship, suggested she apply for the cardiologist position with the Presbyterian Heart Group in Albuquerque.

“The job with the Presbyterian Heart Group turned out to be right; this was a good fit for me,” Schauer said.

After working in health care since the 1970s, Schauer came to the conclusion that traditional Western medicine could not provide all the answers for her patients, a realization that led to her interest in Chinese medicine and Ayurveda (an ancient Indian system of holistic medicine).

“What I found interesting is that in Western medicine we treat disease at end stage, while ancient medicine practice holds people responsible for taking care of their daily health,” Schauer said. “I realized there are lots of alternative ways to treat people.”

Schauer noted that in acute situations, like when someone’s arteries are blocked, for example, Western medicine can treat the immediate need. But Eastern medicine often offers great ways to treat stress and some of the contributing factors that lead people to crisis.

“Sometimes in the emergency room, people will show up who have chest pain, but nothing is wrong with the physiology of the heart,” Schauer said. “Nevertheless, the pain indicates stress in the body, and this stress can be reduced using acupuncture, yoga or meditation. It’s all medicine. Exercise is medicine.”

Eastern and Western medicine are complementary, Schauer said. As an example, when concerns arose about Vioxx and other COX-2 inhibitors (pain medicines), the cardiologists at the Presbyterian Heart Group were concerned about how to provide pain relief. All of them agreed that one good alternative for receptive patients was to refer them to an acupuncturist.

Schauer practices what she recommends to patients. She has done yoga for flexibility, stress relief and exercise.

“Fifty percent of the population dies from cardiovascular disease, and most of it is preventable,” Schauer said.

Schauer is an advocate for greater recognition of alternative medicine that addresses the whole person, not just the disease.

“The heart is the center of your being,” Schauer is quoted as saying in an article in the Albuquerque Journal. “It’s not only a physiologic pump. It’s the center of who you are; the center of our emotions.”

Schauer recently served as president of the New Mexico Chapter of the American College of Cardiology. She currently is serving as chair of the ACC board of governors to work for the improvement of quality of cardiovascular care for patients in New Mexico and across the country.

“This advocacy role is important,” Schauer said. “The American College of Cardiology advocates quality cardiology care for the United States and really for  the world. The world looks to the ACC for guiding quality cardiology care.”

Her appointment to the ACC marks only the second time in the organization’s 42-year history that a woman has chaired its board of governors, Schauer said, noting that it’s not so surprising since only 14 percent of cardiologists are women.

Schauer said she has accomplished so much in large part due to the incredible mentors she has had along the way.

“Mentors were key to my advancing in my career,” Schauer said. “That and the fact I’ve never turned down a good opportunity when it presented itself. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, always wanting to know more. The rest just all unfolded. It’s been my path, and I’m just grateful it’s been so interesting.”

Kate Hartsel is a writer for the UW-Eau Claire News Bureau.


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