It’s only the beginning of April, but Dr. Emma Stoll is already booking appointments into June.
Last Saturday morning, Dr. Stoll began seeing patients in Marathon as an extension of her current practice in Big Pine.
“The current economic strain has forced some people’s healthcare to fall by the wayside, and we want to make sure they have as much access as possible,” she explained.
Stoll, an internist and general practice physician, relocated from Canton, Ohio less than five years ago where she part of a large private practice as well as being on staff at four major hospitals. Her connection to the Keys, however, began back in the late 70s when she spent a year at Fishermen’s Hospital as a medical technician with a brief stop in Hollywood, Florida before returning to her native state.
Primary care, Stoll explained, is still the “gatekeeper of modern medicine.” In her day-to-day practice, she spends most of her time with adult patients facing with diabetes, hypertension and high lipids. These conditions are most commonly addressed with proper diet and exercise, but if left unaddressed, can lead to chronic and more serious health issues.
Stoll said she prefers to focus on preventative medicine and keep her patients off of expensive and often under-studied prescription medications.
“We’ve gotten so far away from treating people,” Stoll explained, adding that many doctors are pinned between a rock and hard place with catering to insurance and pharmaceutical companies for profit.
Her passion for medicine and helping people is easily traced back to her uncle who practiced general family medicine in a rural Michigan community in the late 60s and early 70s. He embodied the simplest ideals in his practice, Stoll explained.
“He always carried his black bag with him and made house calls without question. He always accepted walk-in patients, because he never made appointments. I remember when he used to get paid with bushels of potatoes. He really existed as a part of the community, and he loved what he did.”
She is looking to emulate her uncle with her patients in this southernmost community. Her patients here – seasonal residents and the working class – face distinctly different challenges regarding healthcare than did her patients in Canton, namely financial constraints and being forced to travel long distances for medical care.
“I hope that by being more accessible to my patients, they will in turn be more compliant.”
Educating her patients about proper, regular medical care is another primary focus of her practice. Like changing the oil in your car and rotating the tires, routine care is mandatory as part of her office’s healthcare plan.
A medication to lower lipid levels, she explained, can only be deemed effective after three months. Educating her patients as well as their families on proper healthcare is one of her greatest responsibilities in her practice.
“Medicine is about understanding patients and helping them to trust you in your advice.”
Not only does she have to earn her patients’ trust to get them to follow her orders, she also has to break down barriers of being a female physician – and a non-traditional student.
Though she was certified as a medical technician first, Stoll gave birth to her daughter Michelle and went to work as an accountant. It wasn’t until Michelle graduated from high school that Stoll was able to pursue her passion as a doctor. She attended Ross University School of Medicine in the Caribbean and returned to her home state to complete her residencies at Northeastern Ohio University College of Medicine.
Dr. Andre Ognibene, Stoll’s mentor who was once second in line for the position of Surgeon General, pushed her to go to medical school when it seemed even the greatest obstacles were before her.
“I was 42 when I went back to medical school,” she explained. Committees for admission to medical schools easily dismissed her as a ‘non-traditional’ student.
Nevertheless, she persevered. It’s safe to say that Stoll, though only recently through medical school by today’s standards, embodies old school ideals.
“A lot of doctors today forget that their patients’ time is just as valuable as their own,” she said.
As often as her schedule allows, Stoll returns to Ohio to see her daughter as well as the apple of her eye, two and a half year old granddaughter, Kaelin.
Besides her love for her family, Stoll shares a common ground with many residents of the Florida Keys. She’d barely been in her new home in Grassy Key a year when Hurricane Wilma flooded her home and ruined everything she owned – even her medical degree.
“I know what it’s like to have to start over.”
Stoll added that she hopes to spend time in the future working with the international medical organization, Doctors Without Borders.