Andrew Schneider, MD, joins the UNC Department of Surgery as an Assistant Professor in the Division of General, Trauma, and Acute Care Surgery. He sat down to discuss his childhood dream to become a doctor, the impact COVID-19 had on his surgical training, and the advances in medicine he hopes to see in the next decade.
Dr. Andrew Schneider received his undergraduate degree cum laude from the University of Florida in 2009 before earning his medical degree at the University of Miami in 2013. He completed his general surgery residency training at the University of Chicago, during which time he also earned a Master of Biomedical Informatics degree. After completing his residency, he accepted a Critical Care Fellowship here at UNC. Dr. Schneider has a keen interest and advanced training in EPIC and is a member of Alpha Omega Alpha and the Arnold P. Gold Humanism Honor Society.
Why UNC surgery?
I first learned about UNC Surgery from Melina Kibbe. Her husband, Dr. Patti, was one of my attending’s during my general surgery residency at the University of Chicago. I met her at a dinner in Chicago, and she mentioned that there is a phenomenal Critical Care Program in Chapel Hill and suggested I check it out. When I came down here, it checked all the boxes. It’s close to family; it helps an underserved population in desperate need of medical care. It has vast amounts of resources available for research and patient care.
Why academic medicine?
I’ve wanted to pursue academics since the beginning of my career when I graduated from medical school. I realized that to stay at the forefront of technology and innovation, I needed to take the career path of academic medicine. I enjoy teaching residents and medical students and look forward to conducting research that will advance medicine.
Why become an Assistant Professor here at UNC Surgery as compared to another institution?
A few factors attracted me to my position at UNC, but a major one is the mentorship program in this department. As a new faculty member, I get valuable mentors who are good partners in my future practice. Having mentors allows me to take chances while knowing that I have the support if I need guidance along the way. This was essential during my job search. When I had met with Dr. Charles, the General, Trauma and Acute Care Surgery Division Chief, and Dr. Kibbe, the former Chair, I realized that UNC is unique in its mentorship.
What inspired you to become a doctor and a surgeon?
I can’t remember a time where I did not want to be a physician. I’ve pretty much known since the age of three. I don’t know what prompted me down that path, but I’ve always been obsessed with medicine and was one of the few kids that enjoyed going to their pediatrician.
Throughout my undergraduate and medical school training, I wanted to become an internist and eventually pursue Cardiology. However, my first night on my surgical rotation during my third year of medical school changed all that. It was nine o’clock at night, and we were doing a vascular anastomosis on a dialysis patient. The attending surgeon gave me the needle driver and said, “start sewing.” I was hooked from that point on and I never looked back.
How did you decide to pursue general, trauma, and acute care surgery?
I think that, as a whole, medicine is moving towards a direction of sub-specializations. All the specialties tend to get very isolated in terms of the actual ailments you end up treating. General surgery is one of the few fields where you’re able to be a “jack-of-all-trades” and have a variety of disease processes you treat. I enjoy the diversity of procedures.
What advances in medicine would you like to see in your specialty or in general in the next five years?
I want to see surgery incorporate technology in our field to bring us to the 21st century. We constantly fall back on the founders of surgery that told us, “this is a way that we need to do things,” rather than using all the resources, technology (including artificial intelligence and deep learning) to benefit our patients. Realizing that each patient is unique and their treatment should not be a cookbook but rather personalized is key to this.
The perfect example is a patient that comes into the ED critically ill, suffering from sepsis from a urinary tract infection. We know, historically, that certain medications end up helping these patients. That certain medications bring up their blood pressure and specific antibiotics that work better for these patients. However, what we don’t know is an individual patient’s phenotype. What that means is, based on their genetic code, is it possible that they will react differently to different medications compared to others?
Instead, I’d like to see that change to more personalized care. When somebody comes into the emergency room, we synthesize this genetic information and use that to guide us to the exact medications to treat that patient best. Rather than just giving them the usual cocktail of drugs, we provide them what will work for their bio-individuality. We would also minimize the amount of time they’re in the hospital, getting them home more quickly.
What are some of the goals that you would like to achieve during your time at UNC surgery?
I think the tenet of my career is going to be teaching. I want to continue to have an excellent academic responsibility towards the medical students, the residents, and my co-partners in this institution. I want to remain very active from a research standpoint. That means applying for grants, trying to get NIH funding and outside funding to achieve my research goals. Then continue to remain extremely busy clinically. The population of North Carolina is in desperate need of excellent medical care. It is my goal to help provide that for them.
If you could pick the brain of someone alive or dead, who would it be and why?
Today I would have to say, Albert Einstein. He had one of the most unique minds of our entire existence. The way he conceptualized ideas and figured out the solutions to significant problems is fascinating. To be able to sit down and try to understand his thought process would be very enlightening.
What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?
My family, first and foremost, is what motivates me every day. I’m a family man first, and the job comes second. My wife and my daughter are my biggest supporters. Another thing that gets me out of bed is knowing that I can help people every day.
What is one thing you wish your patients or co-workers knew about you before they met you?
I want people to know that I tend to do more listening than speaking. I believe you can learn a lot about patients, not necessarily by asking questions, but by listening to their stories.
Can you give me an example of when you had to overcome an obstacle on your road to becoming a surgeon?
COVID-19 has been the biggest obstacle I’ve had to overcome so far. While I have not been sick from the disease, it had a profound impact on my training. During the entire last six months of my residency, we didn’t perform any elective general surgeries. Our hospital had shut down, and we learned how to re-evaluate what our needs were. It readjusted how we were training to be surgeons. I realized very quickly that Critical Care was in my future because of this. The pandemic helped to reprioritize my goals after training.
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t rush it. We’re very quick in our younger days to try to rush through to get to our final destination. However, as cliché as it sounds, it’s not necessarily the destination; it’s the journey to get there. All the mentors that I’ve had over the years and all the experiences, I wish I could continue to cherish those and spend more time with those people rather than just getting to the next point in my life.
What is something people might be surprised to learn about you?
I play the piano. I’ve been playing for years, and I use it as a stress reliever.
What do you do when you aren’t working?
The things I focus on most when I’m not here is family time, exploring North Carolina, the outdoors life, and movies. I enjoy sitting down on a Friday night with my family and just watching a good comedy.
How would you describe yourself in one word?
If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
I want the superpower of flight. To be able to get from one point to another while still seeing everybody below you sounds terrific. I love flying. I think being on an airplane is incredible. The fact that you’re in a metal tube going 600 miles an hour at 30,000 feet in the air is remarkable but to do that without that metal tube would be pretty amazing.