Why I Love What I Do: The Turn of Events that Led Me to Obesity Medicine

| February 1, 2015

A Message from Dr. Christopher Still

Christopher Still, DO, FACN, FACP, Co-Clinical Editor, Bariatric Times; Medical Director for the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management, and Director for Geisinger Obesity Research Institute, Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, Pennsylvania. Dr. Still is also a board member of the Obesity Action Coalition, Tampa, Florida.


Dear Readers,
This month, I was asked to share my personal and professional story with you. I am blessed in that I love what I do, and I am thankful for the turn of events that led me to treating individuals with the disease of obesity.

I was born and raised in Bradford, Pennsylvania. My father was a physician and my mother was a nurse. Despite having health-conscious parents and four siblings who did not have weight issues, I struggled with obesity from an early age. I saw several dietitians starting in the third grade and tried many  commercial weight loss programs. I did not find lasting  success and by the time I reached my college years at Penn State University, I weighed about 400 pounds. During my senior year, I was notified that I had to take one additional gym class in order to graduate on time. With all other courses filled, I was placed in a class called “swim conditioning” with 20 other students (in Speedos) wanting to become lifeguards! The instructor took me under his wing and really got me motivated to exercise. I swam five days a week during that time and followed a strict meal plan, which resulted in a loss of approximately 70 pounds that summer. I was studying to become a veterinarian, but this experience began to fuel my interest in human nutrition and obesity. I lost about 200 pounds over the next year or so.

I graduated from Penn State with a Bachelor of Science in Animal Bioscience. I originally wanted to become a large animal veterinarian, but made the decision to switch my focus to caring for human patients. I attended Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, New York, New York, and received a Master of Science in Human Nutrition. Everyone thought I was crazy at the time (1988), but I felt it was the right decision. I found that I absolutely loved the field and went on to attend The Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where I became a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine.

I completed a rotating internship at University of Buffalo at Sisters of Charity Hospital in Buffalo, New York, and a residency in General Internal Medicine at Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, Pennsylvania. I also completed my fellowship in Clinical Nutrition & Obesity Medicine at Geisinger Medical Center. Working with patients with obesity became a true passion and I found that I could relate to their situations. In 1998, I became Director of the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management at Geisinger Clinic. During that time, we were not performing surgeries, so I would refer many patients to other surgeons, one of whom was Scott Shikora, MD. Dr. Mary Jane Reed, MD, became interested in bringing surgery to Geisinger and went to train with Dr. Shikora. In 2001, Drs. Shikora and Reed performed the first bariatric surgery at our center. Currently, the surgeons operate on approximately 10 patients a week.

We also grew in the area of research. I saw an opportunity and a need for obesity research at Geisinger. In 2004, a molecular obesity scientist and colleague of mine asked what was the most pressing clinical need. I answered non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) also known as “fatty liver,” and we began research. Today, I head Geisinger’s Obesity Research Institute, which focuses on areas of research such as NASH, clinical predictors of weight loss, type 2 diabetes resolution, and genetic markers for obesity. The Obesity Institute encompasses many groups, such as clinicians, molecular scientists, epidemiologists, geneticists, and pediatricians, and it made sense to bring them all together at Geisinger for a larger, more comprehensive research approach. We are in a unique position for research because our patient follow up is approximately 80 percent and we have little out migration. Moreover, we have the opportunity to do longitudinal outcome studies on the over 5,000 surgical patients.

I truly love being an obesity medicine physician. I have the opportunity to help patients with therapeutic interventions and pharmacotherapy; provide pre- peri- and post-surgical care of bariatric surgery patients; promote the prevention of obesity; and advocate for those who suffer from it. It is interesting that the cross that I used to bear is now my livelihood and passion.

I enjoy my career and kids, and sometimes I have the opportunity to bring both together. Recently, I took my two sons on a medical mission to Guatemala. It was a rewarding experience for all of us and I hope to have the opportunity to do others  in the future.

I am truly  blessed to work with many wonderful colleagues with a passion for treating people who suffer from obesity and in research. I hope to continue to provide competent clinical care, cutting edge translational obesity research, and to improve my tennis game!

Christopher Still, DO, FACN, FACP,

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