Stephen Freiberg is originally from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He completed the honors program in medical education at the University of Miami for both his undergraduate and medical school training. He then completed his residency in anesthesiology at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, followed by a fellowship in cardiothoracic anesthesiology at Duke Hospital. He currently practices anesthesiology in Orlando, Florida. He specializes in anesthesiology for cardiac and thoracic surgery, with a particular interest in heart and lung transplantation, major aortic surgery, and incorporating regional anesthesia into these cases.
He’s married to Rachel, the love of his life, who he stands by, never talked to him in high school. Together, they have two toddler terrors. His daughter Dylan, is 5 and is one big ball of sass, and his son Myles who is 2, crashes around the house like a bowling ball with legs.
His two greatest passions in life are his work and his family. The first is defined by precision, organization, focus, and constant vigilance. The second, is defined by zero of those things.
He’s quite active on social media, primarily instagram, where his content is mostly focused on anesthesia, parenting, well being, and making fun of his kids.
What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life? (Feel free to give specific brands/models).
Three purchases really come to mind:
First, is an air-fryer! I know they are their own running joke these days, but we honestly use ours all the time, for everything from chicken nuggets, to vegetables, salmon, and even steak! We love it so much my wife wants to get a bigger one!
Second is probably a Spotify membership! I had been a “free version” user for years, but having pretty much any song you could want to hear, instantly at your fingertips is pretty awesome!
Third is Slow-Mag, an enteric coated magnesium supplement. This is obviously not a medical advice post, but since I started taking it, I found a noticeable decrease in the number of muscle cramps and tension headaches I experienced.
What is the funniest thing that has happened (to you or witnessed) in your job?
Firstly I want to say that I feel lucky to work with an incredible group of anesthesiologists, several of whom I’ve become exceptionally close with. We have a group text where we not only curbside each other with patient management questions, but also “bro out,” joke with each other, send memes, that sort of thing. And this group text regularly makes me LAUGH OUT LOUD.
Plenty of funny things happen at work, that overall are too numerous to name. But patients sure say funny things after they’ve been provided some sedation, or when they’re emerging from anesthesia!
Favorite guilty pleasure after a stressful day at work?
My number one guilty pleasure is when my children come running out of the house to greet me when I come home from work! It is the best feeling in the world. And I say guilty, because I hope they never stop doing it!
A close second, is probably an obnoxiously long hot shower.
How has a failure (or apparent failure) set you up for later success? Do you have "favorite failure" of yours?
My failures are numerous. One of the things I’ve really tried to embrace in more recent years is the concept of “failing forward:” purposely and deliberately using failure to find success. I believe that in our failures, our greatest growth can be nurtured.
That said, two failures come to mind.
The first was a college rejection. I [as do many that enter the medical profession], worked insanely hard in high school. And all of that hard work was targeted at getting accepted into what I envisioned to be the quintessential college experience: Columbia University.
I was rejected flat out. And I was devastated.
But ultimately that failure brought me to the University of Miami where I had an amazing experience, met lifelong friends, and had the opportunity to study abroad. Plus, this is the path that ultimately lead me to meet the love of my life.
Who knows if all these wonderful things would’ve happened otherwise?
My second failure was during my first (or maybe second) year of clinical practice. During a code I committed the ultimate sin of central line placement, and lost the guidewire [in the patient].
Fortunately we stabilized the patient, and I turned my attention back to my horrific mistake. I could visualize the wire with ultrasound, and therefore had it in my mind that I would handle my own error: I had a scalpel in one hand and a kelly clamp in the other, thinking that I could retrieve it. Then I paused, and realized that I in no way had the skillset to perform vascular cutdowns or foreign body retrieval.
Mortified, I consulted one of our exceptional vascular surgeons. I expected to be berated and humiliated, but in a completely unaffected manner, he calmly informed me he’d be right over to help. After skillfully retrieving the wire, I again expressed my embarrassment and gratitude. He could not have been more magnanimous.
I believe recognizing my limitations in that moment, was a huge component of my growth as an anesthesiologist. Additionally, I think my asking for help, fostered a greater development of mutual respect between myself and my surgical colleague. And perhaps, played a small role in achieving my current position, as Chief of Anesthesia for Vascular Surgery.
If you had a billboard for all other healthcare professionals out there with any message, what would it say? (It can be someone else's quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)
An attending in residency would say this often, and I think it has served as pretty unflappable guiding principle: “Take care of every patient as if it were your family member.”
I think that sentiment is immediately grounding, and one that is unlikely to ever lead one astray in taking care of patients
What is an unusual habit or (conventionally considered to be) absurd thing that you do/love (may or may not be related to your discipline/practice)?
I have an unhealthy obsession with task completion. If I get started on a task I have a very difficult time moving onto something else unless the task is completed.
In the last 5 years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life (may or may not be related to your discipline/practice)?
Again, I have a couple answers here:
The first is exercising in the morning, before work. I’ve always enjoyed working out, and recognize it’s critical importance in both my mental and physical well-being and longevity. But as I progressed through medical training, I was doing it less and less, to the point that by fellowship I was hardly exercising at all. I continued to rationalize with the excuses, and really leaned on an unwillingness to exercise if it meant less time to spend with my family
Twenty pounds later, later I realized I’d made enough excuses, and it was time to make it a priority. I now exercise almost every morning, first thing, before my kids are even awake. No excuses to be made, I just get up and get it done.
Second, and related to the first point, in order to make that exercise schedule realistic, I started to prioritize sleep. I was guilty of the macho mentality, of taking pride in how little sleep I could function on. But ultimately it’s a disservice to myself and the people I care about. Indeed in my line of work sleep can be compromised and I still can function on less sleep. But I’ve realized how much better of a person I am when I get enough, and I’ve stopped apologizing for that.
Third, is listening to podcasts! If you would’ve told me 10 years ago that I would enjoy talk radio, I would’ve laughed in your face!
I still love music, but listening to podcasts when driving and in the gym has made my commute so much more enjoyable, and has proven a great way to stay up to date in current events, anesthesia, finance, and pop culture!
What advice would you give to a smart, driven student? What advice should they ignore?
I’ll start with what they should ignore first: Anytime someone says, this is “best way” or “the only way” to do something, take pause. I’m not saying it necessarily needs to be ignored, but ask yourself if that is really the only way something can be done, and why the person might be advocating as such.
What bad recommendations do you hear in your area of expertise that you would want to correct the most?
My clinical pet peeves are
That normal saline is the preferred intravenous fluid for patients with renal insufficiency or renal failure! This has been so widely researched and debunked, but the dogma is so hard to get rid of.
When clinicians attempt to “treat” lactic acidosis with sodium bicarbonate.
More broadly, I’m not a big fan of when people have the mindset of “because that’s the way we do it.” I’m far more interested in medicine that is practiced with supportive evidence, or at least sound physiologic reasoning.
In the last 5 years, what have you become better at saying "no" to? What new realizations helped?
Saying “No” in general! No to extra work projects, committees, social commitments, and more. Setting boundaries with people and my time has definitely been a weak point of mine and is an ongoing work in progress
When you feel overwhelmed or lose focus temporarily, what do you do? (What questions do you ask yourself to get back on track?)
I talk to my wife.
She is my rock, my gravity, my best supporter but also my most honest critic. She has the unique ability to real me in and prevent me from saying or doing things too reactively or emotionally.
I also like to look at my “Happy Thoughts” list on my phone. This is strategy I learned from Mo Gowdat’s book Solve For Happy. It sounds cheesy, but it does have an impressive ability to serve almost as a meditation, and it helps me re-center.
And, harkening back to the motto I mentioned earlier, I ask myself “What would I do if this patient were my family? To prioritize that concept, and focus on the patient can be very grounding.
What is your best or your favorite achievement in your career so far?
My family is my greatest achievement, and I will always consider that to be the case.
Want more Dadesthesiology?
Follow Stephen on Social Media