Dr. J. Fred Stoner is a pathologist and clinical pain management specialist in the Pennsylvania area. After receiving his Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Pittsburgh, he took an unorthodox path to earn his M.D. from the University of Chile at Valparaiso, Chile. This provided him a unique opportunity to fully engage another culture.
Once he returned to the United States, Dr. J Fred Stoner came back to Pittsburgh to work with leaders in the fields of cancer research. During this time, he volunteered as a visiting professor at West Virginia University, sharing his specific skills with new doctors.
During his free time, Dr. J Fred Stoner spends time with his family. He also sits on the Sports Hall of Fame board, helping to research, nominate, and induct new members into the prestigious club.
Why did you choose to become a doctor?
Since I was young, all I ever wanted to be was a doctor. There was just nothing else that drew my attention as it did. I needed to be a doctor. When I graduated from college, I didn’t have the funding for medical school, so I worked while applying everywhere I could think of until I got my acceptance to the University of Valparaiso in Chile. My parents had to remortgage their house, and I had a few friends that helped me finance my education.
It was such an experience because I had to move to Chile six months before school began just to learn the language. I worked at the local hospital as an orderly to pick up as much as I could.
I spent five years in class learning the clinical sciences and another two years doing rotating internships. One of my favorite internships was rural health, where I spent a month in one of the local communities serving as their only doctor.
After I’d finished there, I returned to the states and entered into a research fellowship with Dr. Bernard Fisher. He’s a well-known breast cancer researcher based out of Pittsburgh. After some time, I also had the opportunity to work with Dr. Mark Goodman, whose specialty is a surgical orthopedic oncologist of rare bone and muscle cancers. During that time, I was privileged to do mini-fellowships at the University of Michigan and the Mayo Clinic, learning from experts in their fields.
What area do you specialize in?
Not many doctors have the specific training that I do. I am a pathologist, as well as a clinician. I have been at the forefront of breast cancer research, including having a paper published in the International Journal of Surgical Pathology. Research is so important; Learning what the markers are, why one type of tumor will grow but another doesn’t, it’s just so necessary to increase survival.
The work I did with Dr. Goodman is different in that there are far fewer patients affected by bone or muscle cancer. Most of these patients were being treated for something different, like degenerative disease, and their doctor found a tumor.
Why did you choose this specialty?
Besides pathology, I also specialize in pain management. I think this is a logical offshoot from the research. Throughout my time in pathology, of course, you think about the person behind the samples. Once we had a better understanding of what causes the pain, we could provide comfort for the patients. There are so many people that live with chronic pain and just need someone who understands the science behind it. My experience allows me to be that person.
What is your daily routine?
I have a special needs daughter who goes to a local university several days a week. I will typically get her on her way, then head into the office. I see patients, and I work on charting. I’m the sole practitioner here, just myself and a few staff. It’s on me to make sure records are, and treatments are followed through.
When you look forward in your career, what trend in medicine do you see impacting your specialty the most? Is it for the better or worse? Why?
Well, this one is painfully obvious, I think. When I first began my career, there was not a sense of having to treat pain. The pain was something patients just had to realize was going to happen and deal with it.
Over time, that ideology changed, and pain control became a ‘vital sign’. Doctors were encouraged to treat pain as we would any other medical issue. We were given a ‘green light’ to prescribe stronger pain medication, even for minor issues.
Of course, this mentality is what has created the opioid crisis we see today. Once the government realized a monster had been created, they reevaluated their recommendations and limited pain medication prescriptions so heavily that we can barely prescribe them at all.
The problem is, there wasn’t a plan made to replace what these meds had been doing. I am an advocate for things such as medical marijuana or anything that can help relieve the pain, but it’s more about money than pain relief.
Unfortunately, I only see this situation getting worse, medicine is a big business now. You have to have the right insurance, see only approved physicians. At a recent speaking engagement I attended, I was actually told that some hospitals refer to patients as consumers. I was floored! We can’t expect to maintain an effective economy based on solely healthcare dollars.
What do you love about your job?
With regard to the research, it’s piecing together the clues I love. You’re a medical detective as a pathologist. You spend your time looking at the specimen, diagnosing the tissue, and providing that information to the right people so they can treat the cause.
As a pain specialist, it’s the patients that make it worthwhile. Those who don’t live with chronic pain will never fully understand the struggles. People have lost friends and family because they are limited due to pain. Maybe they can’t attend get-togethers as they could before.
When we find a method that works and they are able to share that they’ve reconnected, it’s just the best feeling. I’ve had terminal patients thank me for giving them even short-term relief. They were able to move more and do more. That’s why I do this work.
What would you consider to be the greatest accomplishment in your career?
Just being a doctor is my greatest accomplishment. I took a different approach to my learning, and it presented me with opportunities I’d never imagined.
I’ve learned a new language and a new culture. There were no dorms at the University in Chile. I stayed with a family, I was part of the community. That has allowed me to help Spanish speaking patients here that others have difficulty understanding.
Tell our readers about some of your volunteer activities.
I helped create and organize the Lawrence County Medical Society, Pain, Addiction and Law Symposium (PALS) which is in its 8th year. I am the current President of the Lawrence County Medical Society since 2010. We give a scholarship yearly to the UPMC Jameson School of Nursing, for medical ethics.