Dr. Karen Oehler: William F. Ross, M.D., Scholarship Award in Family Medicine

By LaKisha Ladson

Dr. Karen Oehler had an impressive résumé and a successful career.

She had an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Rice University and a master’s and doctorate from Stanford University. She did postgraduate work at the University of Cambridge in England. She won numerous awards and wrote or co-wrote 16 publications. She had a job with Texas Instruments’ corporate research and development laboratory.

Dr. Karen Oehler

But if you look deeper, you would see a recurring science theme: Her undergraduate degree satisfied pre-med requirements in biology and organic chemistry. Her Stanford Ph.D. thesis included computed tomography images and techniques to highlight suspicious tumor regions.

“I’ve always had a strong desire to find out how things work and how to fix them when they go wrong,” she said.

Then life experiences revealed her heart’s desire. She became a mother to Andrew and Kevin Gatherer, now 14 and 11; she volunteered at Resurrection Lutheran Church in Plano and at her sons’ schools; and she matured.

“I really want to help people at a personal level,” she said.

So at the age of 38, she left her successful engineering career to go to medical school.

“Medicine offered a profession which combined intellectual challenge with intrinsic compassion for others,” she said. “It was a hard decision, and perhaps not a very financially sound career choice, but I had to follow my heart.”

And she has done that successfully as well. Dr. Oehler is the recipient of the 2010 William F. Ross, M.D., Scholarship Award in Family Medicine.

The award, given to a graduating student, includes a $1,000 scholarship from the Dallas chapter of the Texas Academy of Family Physicians Foundation. It is named 
for the chairman of family and community medicine at UT Southwestern from 1984 to 1993.

Dr. Dan Sepdham, assistant professor of family and community medicine and faculty adviser for the family medicine interest group, said Dr. Oehler is rare in that medicine is her second career and she is a natural fit.

“Dr. Oehler is very humanistic and warm in her approach to patient care,” he said.

Dr. Oehler considered a medical career in radiology, but said she realized that talking with patients was the highlight of her day. She vividly remembers a plumber who didn’t know what his gall bladder did and was fearful and confused about his upcoming surgery.

“I sat and sketched his upper GI system, describing it in plumbing terms and found simple words to discuss the pending surgery,” she said. “I left that room realizing that patient education was intensely satisfying to me and needed to play a significant role in my future practice. Pursuing primary care simply felt right to me.”

Dr. Oehler next will go into the Baylor Family Medicine Residency at Garland.