THEIR LIFE'S WORK
by Joanie Eppinga
Many physicians focus on science, research, or technology. For Thomas Caprio ’96, M.D., it’s the people who are compelling.
Caprio, medical director–visiting nurse service and associate professor of medicine/geriatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center, says listening to patients and shaping treatment plans that meet their needs is at the heart of his practice. “There’s a lot of technology out there,” he says, “and a lot of medications, but the key is to come up with the right plan for that particular patient.”
Patient-centeredness is a new focus of medicine in general, according to Caprio, who majored in biochemistry and completed the courses for a pre-med minor. However, he notes that the field of geriatrics has had that emphasis for more than a decade — a main reason he chose the specialty.
Additionally, Caprio says he’s always had an interest in older adults, thanks to experiences with relatives facing Alzheimer’s and other age-related conditions. Watching his parents act as caregivers for those family members made an impression on Caprio.
That impression deepened when he began working with older adults and listening to their life stories. At the same time, he was working in the medical field with mentors he admired. When one of the physicians said, “You should think about geriatrics—you’d be good at this,” Caprio realized the doctor had identified interests even he wasn’t aware he had.
“That was a pivotal moment for me,” Caprio says. “Within three days, I’d signed up for the geriatrics program at Rochester. I knew I would find a kinship with people in that field.”
In his current work in geriatrics and palliative care, Caprio sees patients and teaches students. Asked what he most wants his students to learn, Caprio answers, “To focus on a patient’s level of function. The main questions are, what has changed for that patient and what can we improve?”
Answering those questions with every patient is rewarding, says Caprio. Patients and their families express deep appreciation for the time, attention, and thoughtfulness they receive, which “fulfills me in what I’m doing,” he notes.
Caprio is not alone in his passion. He recalls that he and his twin brother Anthony Caprio ’96 shared the desire to be a doctor since they were very young. “We took a path that was parallel—both attending Nazareth, the same medical school and residency training, and both ending up in geriatrics,” he says. The brothers’ paths diverged when Tony moved to North Carolina, but they stay in touch, meet at medical conferences, and share resources. Caprio notes, “It’s a lot of fun having a colleague, friend, and twin brother all in one person!”
Caprio also finds enjoyment in the variety of his practice. “No two days are the same,” he says. “One day I’ll be traveling between a nursing home and a classroom; another, I’ll be conducting research.”
No matter what Caprio’s schedule holds, though, the focus on the person remains paramount. “It’s important to be good at the science of medicine,” he says. “But treating the person taps into the art of the practice.”
Joanie Eppinga is a writer and editor in Spokane, Washington.