Understanding and empathy are critically important for Neurologist Lauren Schrock, MD.
Schrock joined University of Minnesota Health earlier this year, and is a member of the Udall Center of Excellence in Parkinson’s Disease Research. She cares for patients who have movement disorders—such as Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor and dystonia—and helps identify the best course of treatment for each person, including medication, physical therapy, deep brain stimulation or other options.
“The more I know and understand about each of my patients, the better equipped I am to care for them,” she said.
We talked with Schrock about her treatment approach, the unique challenges facing patients with movement disorders and her dual role as a physician and a researcher.
Initially, I evaluate patients in the clinic. Medication to manage movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease can become less effective over time. Some may experience what we call “motor fluctuations,” which occur when the effects of medication become inconsistent and fluctuate throughout the day. These fluctuations may signal that the Parkinson’s disease is becoming more advanced. After I see a patient in clinic and they have undergone additional evaluations that inform our clinical decision making, I meet with a multi-disciplinary team to discuss whether each patient is an appropriate candidate for deep brain stimulation surgery, or whether we should recommend another course of treatment. I’m also involved in the surgery itself. I work with my neurosurgery colleagues to identify the best locations in the brain to place electrodes during deep brain stimulation surgery in order to reduce a patient’s symptoms.
People with movement disorders struggle with a very visible, physically challenging condition.
I’m passionate about helping them overcome that challenge. Each patient is unique, but by finding the most appropriate treatment plan we can make a enormous difference in a person’s life. It’s exciting to play a part in that effort. Movement disorder treatment also requires a lot of different skills. Doctors must have a deep understanding of brain anatomy, must know the intricacies of different medication effects and must be familiar with an array of surgical procedures as well.
As a physician, it’s critically important that I consider how a patient’s condition affects them in unique ways. Some patients may have a minor tremor in their hands—which may not seem like a big deal to you or I. But what if that person is a teacher or a craftsman? That tremor could be severely debilitating for them. I like to talk with patients and understand how their disease impacts their life, because that’s what truly matters when considering treatment options.
Working with patients gives me a deep understanding of the challenges of living with a movement disorder and makes the gaps in our current therapies stand out in stark relief. Caring for patients gives me a unique opportunity to see how new therapeutic technology will impact patients’ lives. Advances in our research depend on these very human encounters. Our work also depends on the generosity of those patients with a neurological disease who volunteer to participate in studies so that we can advance our knowledge and our ability to heal. I feel fortunate to work at University of Minnesota Health, where many of our patients and clinician-researchers work together to help future patients. Each visit I share with a patient has the potential to open up new doors and inspire new breakthroughs that will in turn make others’ lives better.