Medical Staff Profile: Anna Choo Elmers, M.D.
Q & A with Anna Choo Elmers, M.D., Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Physician
Q: Why did you decide to become a physician?
A: I grew up in a family of doctors – my mom, my aunt and my uncle. So, medicine was all around me. I think medicine provides a satisfaction and fulfillment that can’t be reproduced in other professions. My perspective was especially unique because I practiced law before becoming a physician. While it was intellectually stimulating, it didn’t provide the win-win situations you often have in medicine.
Q: Why did you specialize in physical medicine and rehabilitation?
A: Medical students don’t typically get exposure to physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) when they’re in medical school. So PM&R physicians often decide to pursue this specialty because of some exposure they’ve had to the field somewhere else – an old injury, a family member with a catastrophic encounter. That was sort of my experience. One of my med school classmates was a physical therapist, and she told me she thought my personality was perfect for physiatry (the PM&R specialty). So, I did a couple of rotations in PM&R and loved the team approach and the patient population. PM&R physicians are typically optimistic; they really are cheerleaders for their patients.
Q: Why did you choose to join the staff at Shepherd Center?
A: I’ll have to admit that when I went into PM&R, I had no interest in working with patients with spinal cord and brain injuries because of my prior exposure in medical school. But when I came to Shepherd as part of my residency, I loved it. I love to see the progress patients make. Some make amazing recoveries from the ICU to the day program. I love playing an integral role – along with the rest of the treatment team – in a patient’s recovery from a catastrophic injury. It’s very uplifting.
Q: What is your approach to treating patients at Shepherd Center?
A: I feel like I can form a good rapport with patients and families. Patients are more motivated when you have a good relationship with them. As a physician, establishing a good rapport is vital. With the good rapport, your patients have confidence in what you tell them they need to do. I relate to my adolescent patients in less of an “I’m a white coat, and you’re the patient” approach and more of an “I’m the doctor, and we’re going to do this together” attitude.
Q: How do you offer hope to patients at Shepherd?
A: I never say, “never,” because I really don’t know if someone will walk again. I say, “We’ll see.” I don’t want to take someone’s hope away. A lot of what motivates patients is hope. If the patient and family are people of faith, I encourage them to continue to pray. I personally believe in the power of prayer. There have been a number of studies done on the positive effects of prayer on patient recovery.
Q: What have you learned about yourself and others in the process of treating people with catastrophic injuries?
A: I’ve learned that if you let your job as a physician consume you, it will. If I didn’t have a family at home, I could be here all day long talking to families. I really do love what I do, and that’s great, but I have learned I need a good balance between work and home to benefit both myself and my patients. Also, I’ve learned that everyone here at Shepherd cares about our patients. People work here because they love their work. It’s nice to work with people who have the same objectives as I do. I have great people on my two treatment teams. Everyone is willing to help and you don’t find that everywhere. We definitely have a neat culture here.
Interesting Facts: Anna Choo Elmers, M.D.
• Dr. Elmers met her husband Mike on Match.com. He is an engineer for General Mills.
• They have a 1-year-old daughter they affectionately call “Picklehead.”
• Dr. Elmers’ mother is of Chinese descent, but grew up in India. Thus, Dr. Elmers grew up with a strong Indian influence. She was born in Malaysia and moved to California when she was 7.
Interviewed by Jane M. Sanders
Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.