• Susan Schultz, MD

    Schultz sitting in MRI lab

    What is your hometown?

    Lincoln, Nebraska

    When did you join the University of Iowa faculty?

    I joined the faculty in 1995 after completing residency and a research fellowship here at the UI.

    How/when did you become interested in science and medicine?

    My mother is an RN with a deep appreciation for clinical service and so healthcare has always been part of my life, and my father is the prototypic slide-rule-wielding-engineering-researcher who gave me an appreciation for rigorous scientific inquiry.

    What interested you to pursue a career in neuropsychiatry research?

    My interest in medical research grew after I completed medical school and realized what excellent opportunities are here at Iowa. I trained during the “Decade of the Brain” in the 1990s when so many new findings about the brain were discovered as brain imaging techniques began developing rapidly. The wonderful thing is that these advances are still emerging, which keeps things exciting.

    Is there a teacher or mentor who helped shape your career?

    The late George Winokur was the first person to challenge me during my residency to think critically about the research literature. 

    Later, throughout my early faculty development and continuing today, Nancy Andreasen has been a major influence on my career and has opened many doors for me.

    How or why did you choose the University of Iowa?

    I selected the UI for my residency training after hearing about its international reputation in psychiatric research.

    The University of Iowa’s faculty members are united to provide exceptional patient care while advancing innovations in research and medical education. How does your work help translate new discoveries into patient centered care and education?

    My greatest research interest is in studying the aging brain.

    My research focuses on the care and treatment of patients in late life who suffer from dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease. By bringing new clinical trials to Iowa, I hope to advance the field so that we can learn how to stop the disease, and also engage Iowans in the research process.  This often has great meaning to them: to be part of an important effort to reduce suffering.

    What kinds of professional opportunities or advantages does being a faculty member at an academic medical center provide?

    The academic setting at Iowa provides unique opportunities to work with colleagues across the Carver College of Medicine and more broadly across the University. I also believe that the excellent reputation of Iowa has helped pave the way for me to be involved in the field at the national level such as serving with the FDA, NIH study sections and other national leadership roles.

    Please describe your professional interests?

    The aging brain: Studying risk factors for dementia (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease), to help discover interventions for dementia that reduce disability and psychiatric comorbidity.

    My professional interests focus on various risk factors that may contribute to memory decline for the older adult. I am most interested in lifetime exposures such as chronic disease, chemotherapy, heart disease, and other factors that affect the brain over time. My hope is to learn more about lifelong interventions that may make a difference.

    What led to your interest in dementia and the impact of aging on the brain?

    I first began my research studying chronic mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, but then became impressed with the impact of aging on the brain. I also realized that dementia is a tremendous public health problem and that age-related memory decline has an impact on quality of life for nearly all individuals. Now that I work with dementia care, I realize that I can rarely go anywhere without meeting people who have first-hand experience in dealing with dementia in their family or close relationships.

    How does working in a collaborative and comprehensive academic medical center benefit your work?

    The chance to collaborate across disciplines with my colleagues in Neuropsychology, Radiology, Nuclear Medicine, Neurology, Internal Medicine, and the College of Public Health is something that would not be possible anywhere else, and it’s critical to tackle an illness such as Alzheimer’s disease and many other disorders of aging.

    What are some of your outside interests?

    My outside interests include traveling, cooking, occasional car shows, and motorcycle races.

    Do you have an insight or philosophy that guides you in your professional work?

    My philosophy is that it is a priority to advance research for the purpose of reducing suffering, which is much more important than my own accomplishments as an individual researcher.

    If you could change one thing about the world (or the world of medicine), what would it be?

    While the advances in research have been amazing, in many care settings we have lost the close doctor-patient relationship of yesteryear where long-term continuity was more the norm. This is a great loss that I hope we can work to regain.

    What is the biggest change you've experienced in your field since you were a student?

    The biggest change in the field is the enormous influx of electronic technology that has completely changed the way we work – in some ways good, and some not so good.

    What one piece of advice would you give to today's students?

    One piece of advice for today’s medical students would be to treat your patients with the same respect you’d want your family to receive. And of course, always keep the idea of a research career open in the back of your mind, but be aware that in many ways it will require other education beyond medical school.

    What do you see as "the future" of medicine?

    The future of medicine is intriguing in the sense that we are likely to have many incredible advances that will help us treat disease. Yet, we will also see an unprecedented increase in aging baby boomers creating an urgent need to be able to accommodate the chronic illnesses of older adults.

    One solution is to learn to match our practices with the goals of care, which are often very different things. 

    In what ways are you engaged with the greater Iowa public (i.e. population based research, mentoring high school students, sharing your leadership/expertise with organizations or causes, speaking engagements off campus, etc.)?

    I am very proud to have an opportunity to engage with the Iowa public though lectures and conferences organized by the East Central Iowa Alzheimer’s Association. I have enjoyed the opportunity to speak at the Iowa City Senior Center and other gatherings on the aging brain and issues for the older adult who may be worried about dementia.