Stephenie Fleegle, M.D.
“My family and I were watching a television show about plastic surgery, and I announced that I was going to be a plastic surgeon,” said Fleegle. “It got a pretty big reaction, so that definitely reinforced my desire to enter medicine.”
By high school, Fleegle knew she didn’t want to be a surgeon, but she still wanted to be a physician.
“My high school principal went to Immaculata,” said Fleegle, “and she gave me the idea of considering it. She told me that the professors and the Sisters would help me get to where I wanted to go, that they would do everything they could. And she was right.”
At Immaculata, Fleegle found an environment that encouraged her to find out who she was and provided plenty of opportunities to explore other interests.
“It was very nurturing,” she said, “especially the Biology- Chemistry Department, and the Philosophy Department, too. Dr. Stephanie Theodorou was one of the first people I told when I got into med school. She really changed my world view and I shared that with her when I graduated. She had a huge influence in how I developed in my life.
“Sister Catarin was really neat,” added Fleegle. “She had this wisdom and calmness about her. She knew what was worth worrying about and what wasn’t.”
After graduating from IU with a degree in biology-chemistry and a minor in philosophy, Fleegle went on to the University of Maryland, School of Medicine, then did her residency in family and community medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. She recently completed a year-long fellowship in geriatrics within the same department, and is doing locum tenens work for six months in Hawaii.
Fleegle chose family medicine in large part because of her experiences growing up.
“I’m from a really small town,” said Fleegle. “My parents still run a funeral home there. My dad’s a mortician and my mom is the office manager. I think I was influenced by their relationship to the community; they were so deeply ingrained in people’s lives, and I wanted to have that kind of connection with a community, too. That’s why I went into family medicine–it’s all about the relationship with people and being involved with the whole family. I think I always wanted to be a family doctor without even knowing it.”
Fleegle even refers to the home visits that are a part of family medicine and geriatric training as “a really neat service. I’d love to continue doing something like that.” Not surprisingly, that spirit of service reveals itself in some of Fleegle’s outreach activities. She is co-founder of the Catholic Medical Student Association; was clinical preceptor for a student-run volunteer clinic in homeless shelters; and in 2010 she visited Haiti on a medical mission trip with Glory Unlimited Ministries, a faith-based group that travels to poor nations to serve spiritually and medically.
Fleegle admits to being intrigued by the field of geriatrics, and she considers it “a natural extension of family medicine.” For Fleegle, working with older patients allows a more holistic approach.
“It’s family medicine to the extreme,” she said. “It’s so big picture, what’s best for the patient, what matters to them. It’s not a matter of micromanaging numbers and focusing on little details, but it’s about paying attention to what is really important for the person, how a patient relates to family and community.
“There is an opportunity to have some very difficult conversations with patients,” said Fleegle. “But you can help them have breakthroughs and see how they can grow and get to the next step, even later in life and at end of life. It can be very challenging, but I find it so rewarding.”
Fleegle has discovered that not only is she learning from her older patients, but she’s enjoying their surprising sense of humor.
“I find geriatrics more joyful and energizing than other aspects of medicine,” she said. “It’s not what a lot of people might think. My older patients have an inspiring outlook on life.”
Fleegle also credits her family’s deep involvement with the community and the reality of death for helping her acquire a more grounded and graceful attitude toward end of life issues.
“Death is so taboo in our culture,” she said, “even in medicine. But the topic of death was an everyday occurrence for us. Not that it wasn’t sometimes a very personal experience, but it was a part of everyday life, and my parents have a gift for dealing with it.”
Eventually, Fleegle hopes to be back serving the community she grew up in on the eastern shore of Maryland. “I would love to be back in a more rural setting, close to where I grew up,” she noted. “But there’s such a need everywhere for health care providers. The future is just going to depend on what’s going on in my life.”