University of California San Francisco

Drs. Nicole Schroeder and Rosanna Wustrack

Schroeder And Wustrack

Interview with Dr. Nicole Schroeder and Dr. Rosanna Wustrack performed by medical students Natalie Kucirek and Kara Tanaka. Dr. Schroeder is the Director of the Orthopaedic Hand Service at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and the Associate Residency Director of the UCSF Orthopaedic Surgery residency program. Dr. Wustrack is the Chief of Orthopedic Oncology at UCSF.

Interview performed by Natalie Kucirek and Kara Tanaka

Question 1: What’s one thing you know now that you wish you would have known during training?

NS: You can’t have it all. You go through training thinking at some point in your life everything is going to be perfect and that everything is going to fall together in place, but, there’s never the right time. You push things off down the road, saying, ‘there’ll be a better time later or at different point of my career,’ but there is not. So just move forward with your plans, whatever they are.

RW: I agree – you can’t have it all. There are only 24 hours a day and seven days in a week so you might not be able to achieve the same level of excellence in every single aspect of your life, but that’s ok. If I could go back to training, I think I wouldn’t be afraid to look like I didn’t know what I was doing, because 99.9% of the time I didn’t know what I was doing, and I still don’t sometimes, but when you put yourself out there, that’s when you grow the most. So, I wish I had not been afraid to show my ignorance more often.

NS: Good one Rosie.

Question 2: Who do you admire?

RW: Dr. Schroeder.

NS: Oh, come on! (laughing) I always admire the people that are a quadruple threat in academic medicine because it’s amazing to see those people run. So, in the field of orthopaedics, particularly  when you see women who have families and then can continue to do research and be excellent clinicians and be great educators, I find those people so impressive. And in our field, for me, that’s Anne Van Heest and Dawn LaPorte and Dr. Wustrack somehow manages to do it. So those are the people I really admire in medicine.

RW: One person that comes to mind is one of my mentors from fellowship, Carol Morris. She’s an orthopaedic oncologist at Johns Hopkins. One of things I really admire about her is that she wasn’t afraid to give tough feedback in a very non-emotional, these-are-the-facts way, but then also moved on from it really well. So, if you are on the receiving end of that, you didn’t feel like you were in the doghouse forever. That’s something I’m terrible at! I’m very good at giving positive feedback. I’m very bad at giving negative or constructive feedback. I really admire that she is able to do that and maintain relationships and it’s not the end of the world.

Question 3: What impact has mentorship had on your surgical career?

RW: Huge! Massive, massive, massive! Medical students always ask, ‘how did you choose orthopaedics?’ It’s just because people told me I should do it. Mentors said, “Oh, you’d be really good at orthopaedics. The field needs more women. You should really think about it.” So, here’s a well-respected orthopaedic surgeon telling me I should do orthopaedics and that I would be good at it. And then just having people looking out for you along the way, people that you could talk to, people that you can emulate. It’s just been really huge. And I still have a lot of great mentors that I lean on a lot now at this point in my career. Had I had no real surgical mentorship and I was just left to my own devices, I would have done family medicine or OB, gyn/onc, or something like that. It actually took mentorship to steer me down this path.

NS: I agree with everything that Dr. Wustrack said! I was exposed to orthopaedics after a sports injury in college. However, it was the interactions with my mentor in med school, watching him educating residents about hand surgery and how passionate he was about his career,  that what really got me interested in orthopaedics and the impact that education can have on medical students and people interested in the field. Every step along the way you have mentors that are giving you advice about your career and that is invaluable. (pause) I’ve got to cut my kids a piece of zucchini bread for breakfast. 

RW: I want one.

Question 4: What is the best piece of advice you have received?

RW: During residency, we had a visiting professor give grand rounds. This one stuck with me because it’s very true – he basically said: You’re going to make mistakes and you’re going to keep making mistakes, so don’t be afraid of the complications or the mistakes. That will happen and will continue to happen, and you’ll feel terrible about it, and when you stop feeling terrible about it, maybe that’s the time to retire. But the complications won’t go away. I think that’s really good advice because it’s really  true. If you walk into a bad outcome, it’s good to keep that in mind that a very well-respected visiting professor said that and deals with his or her own complications as well.

NS: When I was in fellowship, my attending had a list of top 10 commandments of hand surgery and one of them was, ‘if you want a guarantee, buy a toaster’. People always ask me, can you guarantee that I’m going to be pain free or that it’s going to go perfectly? You always want to say sure, but you can’t guarantee that.

I was told once that you should do something that scares you every day. Which I think goes back to what Dr. Wustrack was saying earlier. Put yourself in that position where you ask that question or do that thing that you don’t feel comfortable doing because you can only learn from it.


Question 5: If not surgery, then what?

NS: I’d open up an Etsy shop for all my crafting. Right now, it would be polymer clay earrings that I’ve been making. I also make my own t-shirts. And maybe a small organic farm. 

RW: I probably would have gone into teaching if I didn’t go down the medicine route.

Question 6: What are you most proud of personally and/or professionally?

NS: Personally, I’m most proud of my family. Watching my kids grow every day is one of the coolest things and seeing their brains explode. So that always brings me a smile whether it’s super early in the morning or late at night. And professionally, I‘m always really proud of our residents and watching them grow over the five or six years that they’re with us – seeing how much they learn over the years and watching them teach the next generation of students and residents coming through, I think is amazing. And it’s amazing to see how much they transition over their time here. 

RW: I agree with family. I think that’s super important. When they have little successes, it feels like your success. So that’s really great. My garden is a second, close second, to family. Nikki understands that. And professionally I’m proud that I’m able to keep a steady, overall calm mood in the OR. I try hard and I feel that when I’m successful in keeping things stable in the OR, it creates an environment where everyone can be successful. It’s something that I work on, so I’m proud when I can say, ‘oh that was a really stressful case, but I can tell that the room wasn’t stressed out.

Question 7: What inspires you to do what you do?

RW: I really like what I do, and I feel really lucky that I get to interact with patients the way I get to interact with them. I find that really, really rewarding. And then I really enjoy operating so I feel very lucky that I get to do cases I find really enjoyable. Sometimes there are highs and lows and you’re not necessarily inspired every day, but I find if just keep getting up and going to work, throughout the day I’ll usually find some great moment or really gratifying part of the job. It’s not like you wake up every single day like Cinderella with birds putting your clothes on and singing.

NS: Wait, what? That doesn’t happen for you?

RW: Overall, I just really like my interactions with patients.

NS: Well said Rosie. Yes, I think it’s the patients, our colleagues are certainly inspirational, the people we get to work with every day, the love of what we do. When it really boils down to it, I love what I do every day. In the end, the fact that we get to be surgeons and clinicians and take care of patients, and you can make a really big difference in somebody’s life, feels really good.


Question 8: What are your hobbies outside of the hospital? 

NS: I love crafting, so anything that can get me to use my hands to build stuff is really fun. I was that kid that loved to bedazzle and make puffy paint t-shirts and bead looms and all of that. Rosie and I do a lot of crafting together. We paint a lot. 

RW:  Reading. Art – I like to draw and paint. And now, gardening. That’s a new once since coronavirus.


Question 9: Within orthopaedics, what other specialty would you choose if you did not choose your specialty – so not hand surgery for Dr. Schroeder or oncology for Dr. Wustrack?

NS: Probably, shoulder/elbow? I actually really liked trauma. But probably open shoulder/elbow. Definitely not sports. 

RW: I don’t know, that’s really tough. Maybe, maybe peds? I really liked oncology pretty early.


Question 10: Any additional advice?

NS: Do ortho. We need more women. 

RW: That’s probably the most important piece of advice.