How athletics molded one of Buffalo’s rising physician leaders

The items around Dr. Stacey Watt’s office chart her journey, from standout athlete to one of Western New York’s rising physician leaders.

Dr. Stacey Watt

Dr. Stacey Watt is the incoming president of the Erie County Medical Society starting Oct. 12. She will be only the seventh female physician president of the organization in its 202-year history.

There is children’s artwork of Grand Island, the place where Watt grew up and where she returned when she could have lived anywhere.

Framed on the wall is Watt’s team jacket from the University of Florida, where she was a two-time All-American discus thrower.

A shot put sits on top of a bookshelf, so colleagues who ask how heavy it is can find out for themselves.

Nearby is the latest chapter: a history book Watt coauthored about the Erie County Medical Society, of which she will become president on Oct. 12. Watt, 49, will be only the seventh female physician president of the organization in its 202-year history.

It adds to Watt’s long list of titles, which includes chief of service for anesthesiology at Kaleida Health and interim chair of the Department of Anesthesiology at University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

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“She’s a triple threat, for sure,” said Cheryl Klass, Kaleida’s chief operating officer. “She’s got it all. She’s the clinician, the educator and now the leader.”

As Watt prepares for her one-year term at the Medical Society, the 1992 Grand Island High School graduate said she’s “very proud to be one of the lucky seven,” but she knows, and is prouder, that more women will follow her in the years ahead.

Talk to Watt about her story to this point, and it’s clear how each moment has led to the next. She learned to push herself three decades ago as the nation’s top-ranked high school discus thrower and then worked and trained even harder when the competition picked up in college and later at the U.S. Olympic Festival and Pan American Games.

In medicine, she found that familiar feeling of teamwork in the operating room. She now works clinically three days a week, in the operating room from 6:30 a.m. to whenever the last patient is scheduled – “the day ends when it ends,” Watt says, noting that up to 15 kids a day can come through the operating room at Oishei Children’s Hospital.

She’s learned to celebrate her own achievements and embrace who she is, with an eye always toward what it means for the generations that follow.

“I’m so proud of what I’ve done, but I also know that I couldn’t have gotten this far if someone hadn’t gotten me this far,” Watt said recently from her third-floor office in the Conventus building in Buffalo.

“The women throwers before me, I’m sure had it harder than I did. And I can tell you, the women physician leaders before me had it way harder than I did,” Watt said. “I was only able to go this far because of the path that they created. So my goal is to get as far out as I can, so that the next person can go even farther.”

Dr. Stacey Watt on Oct. 12, 2023, will begin a one-year term as president of the Erie County Medical Society. She will be the seventh female physician president in the organization’s history.

‘So much like my athletic roots’

Growing up, Watt was convinced she would go into engineering. It combined her love of math and science with her problem-solving ability.

But during college, her grandfather, a former coal miner, got sick. Watt remembers the time spent in the hospital with him – “we were very close,” she said – and one conversation that would influence her path ahead.

“Why don’t you do this?” her grandfather suggested.

Confused at first, Watt asked him what he meant.

“Make a difference,” he replied, referring to a medical career. “I know you could do this, and you could do it better. You can change how this goes for people.”

Watt thought about it. She researched and talked to people. The more she learned about medicine, the more she liked it.

Dr. Stacey Watt

“I’m so proud of what I’ve done, but I also know that I couldn’t have gotten this far if someone hadn’t gotten me this far,” Dr. Stacey Watt said.

After graduating from Florida in 1996, she attended medical school at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse. There, mentors brought her into the operating room and gave her exposure to the field of anesthesia.

“I did some rotations with some anesthesiologists and the fit was there in the operating room,” Watt said.

“It was so much like my athletic roots of everyone coming in to an event, a very important one for a patient,” she said. “You came from different specialties, but when you came together, you had different skill sets all working together for a common goal. You celebrated the victories, you cried together with the defeats. The operating room is akin to the athletic field for me, and it’s the place where I call home.”

She returned to Western New York for her anesthesiology residency at UB, where she also completed a pediatric anesthesiology fellowship. During those years, she put down roots and started her family.

Dr. Michael Adragna Sr., who met Watt when she was a resident and he was an attending physician, remembers Watt’s high energy and how “she attacks a problem very forcefully and carefully and accurately.” That was clear when she realized many years ago that UB’s pediatric anesthesiology fellowship needed improvement.

“She sat down and worked on it continuously and revised it to create a very good fellowship that still stands today,” he said. “She resuscitated what was otherwise a dying fellowship.”

2017 Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame induction

Dr. Stacey Watt was inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 2017. She set the state discus record in 1992 with a mark of 172 feet, a mark that still stands more than three decades later.

Records were made to be broken

Watt, inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 2017, set the state discus record in 1992 with a mark of 172 feet.

That record still stands more than three decades later, but Watt is itching for someone to break it – and she wants to be there when it happens.

“Records were made for just that – to be broken,” she said. “You shouldn’t hold on to things for forever. Someone else deserves to have that wonderful thing, too. It’s nice that it’s still there, but I’m sort of rooting for someone to take it out.”

During a softball practice in seventh grade, Stacey Schroeder-Watt noticed a team practicing shot put behind the softball stadium. She thought they weren’t throwing very far or very well, and she strutted over to ask for a try. “It was a little bit of naivety,” she jokes now. Growing up, her parents encouraged her to try every sport and

It’s how she views her athletic and medical careers, vowing to accomplish as much as she can and lay the groundwork for future generations to eclipse what she’s done. Paving the way is even more important for her because, growing up, she at times encountered barriers and felt the sting of disappointment from being overlooked.

After winning a national scholastic indoor throwing championship as a junior in high school, she recalls looking forward to the school announcements the next day. She picked out a great outfit, excited for classmates to hear the news. But it was buried in the announcements behind more popular sports, treated as an afterthought.

That moment, and others, taught her to recognize her own achievements and celebrate her physical strength and power.

“We have to embrace what we’re given,” she said.

Watt said she’ll always consider herself an athlete, though now it’s morphed more into coaching, including in medicine.


Stacey Watt, then Stacey Schroeder is seen in a 1992 photo when she was a senior at Grand Island High School and the nation’s top-ranked high school discus thrower.

Her time in the university world is spent building curriculum, giving lectures and coming up with educational opportunities for students. For the UB medical residents and fellows, she wants them to “have a second-to-none experience” in Western New York, emerging “stronger, faster, better than the other kids” coming out of programs elsewhere.

Her medical research, meanwhile, focuses on heat-related illnesses and injuries in athletes, work that has led her to consult with the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee. When an athlete gets overheated, Watt explains, they undergo some reactions that are similar to an allergic reaction to anesthesia.

“It’s amazing how the world works, when two of the things you’re known for actually end up lining up in something that you can help with,” she said.

‘A lasting change’

When asked to recall a memorable anecdote about Watt, Dr. Nancy Nielsen flashes back to an event the UB medical school hosted within the last year about developing women leaders in health care.

Watt was one of the speakers, and she “basically roused the crowd to a frenzy,” Nielsen recalled.

“She was just amazing,” Nielsen said. “It basically was her life story but also really encouraging women to step forward, be their best self. But what she did was she just roused the crowd in a way that I’d never seen. I didn’t anticipate that, and it was a really remarkable moment.”

Nielsen, who in 1989 became the first female physician president of the Erie County Medical Society, calls Watt a “strong, fearless leader,” someone who is “just really in the right place for the Medical Society and for the medical school right now.”

As her term as president of the Erie County Medical Society nears, Watt said she wants to continue to shine a spotlight on an organization that dates to Sept. 1, 1821, but also focus on developing the next generation of physician leaders. For instance, she helped this year to bring summer interns to the Medical Society.

“My hope is that we’ll have some stronger advocates coming out, some stronger leaders in the future,” she said. “So hopefully my imprint on the Society won’t be felt immediately, perhaps, but in the years to come, the ripple effect will have made a lasting change.”

And once Watt’s one-year term is over, the Medical Society’s next president will be Dr. Iris Danziger – who will become the eighth female physician president.Jon Harris can be reached at 716-849-3482 or Follow him on Twitter at @ByJonHarris.

Jon Harris can be reached at

716-849-3482 or Follow

him on Twitter at @ByJonHarris.

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