A chance encounter changed Karen Wheeler’s life.
Specializing in fertility care wasn’t exactly top of mind for Karen Wheeler when she was pursuing her OB/GYN residency in Abington, Pa. nearly a decade ago, but a special relationship with an infertility patient changed the trajectory of her career.
Working as a resident physician, and later as chief resident, at Abington Memorial Hospital during her obstetrics and gynecology training, a young Dr. Wheeler met Maria, a woman struggling with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) who wanted badly to conceive.
Maria captured Dr. Wheeler’s attention – and her heart.
After that, there was little question about what Dr. Wheeler, who joins RMA Philadelphia as a reproductive endocrinologist April 11, would do with the rest of her life.
“I remember it very clearly,” said Dr. Wheeler, who will see patients at RMA Philadelphia’s Abington and King of Prussia offices, offering the full range of fertility services, from testing to Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) treatment.
“It was 2014, and I had just started seeing more gynecology patients with infertility at the resident clinic, and one patient in particular stuck with me.”
“Maria had nowhere else to go, and she needed me – I guided her though the IVF process and we really connected, really bonded. We worked so closely together, and it meant the world to me to support her in achieving the most important thing in the world to her. She got pregnant, delivered and for many years later would send me cards with her son’s photo. The entire experience was transformative, and when I was experiencing it, I just knew I had to do this work full time.”
That type of intuition is something that has served Dr. Wheeler all her life.
Growing up in Lancaster, Pa., Dr. Wheeler always followed her heart. Though neither of her parents pursued post-secondary education, Dr. Wheeler knew from an early age she both enjoyed – and excelled at – science, and was university bound.
And she was right. In 2007, she graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in Cambridge, Mass., with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry. Next was the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pittsburgh, Pa., where she earned her medical degree.
In 2012, she landed at Abington Memorial Hospital, met Maria, completed her OB/GYN residency, and decided her passion lay in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (REI).
“After MIT, I really thought I’d go to medical school so I could be a pathologist and focus on research, but after my OB/GYN rotation, I loved the fast-paced nature of the field and the bond with the patients,” she said. “And then I met Maria, and I knew I had to specialize in fertility care.”
In 2019, Dr. Wheeler completed her REI training, or fellowship, at Wayne State University and the Detroit Medical Center, in Detroit, where she published pivotal research on endometrial changes in early pregnancy.
Her research, which looked at immune cells called macrophages, found that women with preeclampsia exhibit more reactive, rather than tolerant, macrophages in early pregnancy than women without preeclampsia. While the scientific jury is still out on what causes these cells to turn reactive, and what can be done to prevent or mitigate this process, Dr. Wheeler’s discovery added an important piece of information to doctors’ understanding of preeclampsia, a little understood pregnancy condition. The work also earned Dr. Wheeler a Society for Reproductive Investigation (SRI) President’s Presenter Award.
In August 2019, just a few weeks after graduating from fellowship, Dr. Wheeler joined Reproductive Medicine Associates of Michigan in Troy, Mich., where she has been a practicing fertility doctor since. The next year, she joined the faculty of Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine in Rochester, Mich., as an assistant professor, teaching residents obstetrics, gynecology and infertility.
All the while, Dr. Wheeler was busy building a thriving practice for herself at RMA Michigan and was voted as a Detroit ‘Top Doc’ by fellow doctors in 2020 and 2021.
“If I think about why patients feel comfortable with me, I think it’s because I’m very honest with them about what we do and don’t understand about fertility,” she said. “I like to educate patients about their condition and treatment options so they can make the choices that are right for them.”
“Plus, I really invest in every single patient, the way I first did with Maria.”
After two whirlwind, passionate and inspiring years at RMA Michigan, Dr. Wheeler felt her intuition prodding her once again – it might be time to move on, it told her, and this time closer to home.
Having a deep longing to return to family roots in Pennsylvania and join a practice where she could be involved in day-to-day clinical operations and decision-making, Dr. Wheeler set her eyes on RMA Philadelphia, which she heard had just begun a teaching relationship with Abington Memorial Hospital, where she had fond memories of residency.
Several months later, she was invited to join the practice as a new fertility doctor.
“I feel so fortunate to have landed at RMA Philadelphia,” Dr. Wheeler said. “Not only am I excited to be seeing patients in both the Abington and King of Prussia offices, but I’m eager to start working alongside the fantastic Philadelphia doctors and start teaching at Abington hospital.”
“Honestly, the entire thing just feels like coming – and settling – home.”
There is one more thing Dr. Wheeler, a seasoned runner who has run seven marathons, including the Philly marathon, is looking forward to.
“I can’t wait to explore Philly’s running paths with my five-year-old Golden Retriever Clara,” she said. “Running is my stress relief, my meditation, and my time to think about how much I love doing the work I do.”
“Family has always been important to me, and it’s a dream come true to help build families every day.”
Voted ‘Top Doctor’ by Hour Detroit Magazine, 2020, 2021
Assistant Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, Rochester, Mich.
Recipient of the Society for Reproductive Investigation (SRI)-Pfizer President’s Award for endometrial macrophage research, 2017
Member, American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM)
Member, Pacific Coast Reproductive Society (PCRS)
Chief Resident, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Abington Memorial Hospital, 2015-2016
Recipient, Rebecca Hogue Award, Abington Memorial Hospital, 2015, 2016
Recipient, Frobese Scholar, Abington Memorial Hospital, 2015
Recipient, David Gray M.D. Award of Excellence, Abington Memorial Hospital, 2015
Recipient, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Research Fellowship, 2010-2011
Author of numerous published peer reviewed research articles
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