Married to Medicine

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By Anne Levin

Photography by Andrew Wilkinson

David Barile is a geriatrician who is passionate about helping people age and die with grace. Nicole Schrader, his wife, is a plastic surgeon who strives to help her patients stay young. “It’s ironic, isn’t it?” asks Barile, sitting with his wife recently in their Princeton living room. “We laugh about it a lot,” adds Schrader. “But it seems to work for us.”

During a late summer interview at the rambling, 1880s house they share with their two children, three dogs, a cat, and some chickens (who live outside), this low-key Princeton power couple reflects on their family, their careers, and the community they have come to call home. Bronx-born Barile, 50, is the Director of the Acute Care of the Elderly Unit at the University Medical Center of Princeton, and the founder of the non-profit New Jersey Goals of Care. Lanky and handsome, with his black hair tied in a pony-tail, he is not what you might expect a geriatrician to look like.

Schrader, on the other hand, has a flawless complexion that could make her a poster child for her practice. But her youthful appearance, at 45, comes from healthy living and a love of the outdoors. A native of Germany, she has her own practice in Princeton and is a double board certified surgeon in Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and Otolaryngology (Ear, Nose and Throat) and Head/Neck Surgery.

Their specialties suggest different ends of the medical spectrum. But the couple shares a commitment to helping patients live a better quality of life. Barile chose geriatrics because he sensed a serious need among the elderly. “I saw a lot of people struggling with geriatric care,” he says. “And it takes a lot of skill and attention and expertise in medicine to figure out what might be going on with someone. Everyone presents differently. You have to think about the weakest link and the domino effect it causes.”

The elderly are vulnerable when it comes to medicine. “I think they are really exploited,” he continues. “I’m not politically active, but one thing that really pisses me off is ageism. You see it a lot in medicine.”

Barile is like an old-fashioned doctor, in a way. He makes house calls. He refers fondly to the way medicine was generations ago, “when doctors looked at the whole person,” he says. “And if you take the time to find that one thing that went wrong and tweak it, their whole life changes.”

Barile is like an old-fashioned doctor, in a way. He makes house calls. He refers fondly to the way medicine was generations ago, “when doctors looked at the whole person,” he says. “And if you take the time to find that one thing that went wrong and tweak it, their whole life changes.”

By 2009, having spent several years in geriatrics, Barile founded Goals of Care with a specific mission: “We envision a revolution in geriatric medicine as it is instructed in the classroom and practiced at the bedside,” reads the organization’s website. “Through our programs, we aim to create a safe environment that respects and protects the rights and decisions for care by frail elders, while enriching geriatric education to provide better prognostication and patient-physician communication skills.”

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Schrader’s work in plastic surgery allows her to make a similar impact on her patients. “About 20 times a day, I feel like I have had a big effect on someone’s life,” she says. “It makes people happy. It makes them feel good about themselves. It can be as little as a scar or a slight nasal deformity, to something bigger. I can do this every day, and that’s why I love my job so much.”

Schrader is not an advocate for major plastic surgery. “It makes me upset when people go and get things done they don’t need,” she says. “But in this area, people aren’t interested in a lot of transformation. A lot of women who want to get back to work after raising their children are worried about looking old, and a minor thing can make them feel better. I listen to them. I take my time to focus on the issues they bring up.”

The couple came to Princeton by way of New York and Philadelphia. They met in 1997 when he was a resident physician and she was an intern at Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital. Barile had graduated from Eastern Virginia Medical School, and Schrader had come to the United States as part of medical school at George-August University in Germany. She was intending to go back to Germany after doing her student rotation, but things changed when she met Barile. “I had to repeat my certification and exams,” she says. “But in the meantime, I did research at Mount Sinai. And by the end of two years, I got my internship in general surgery at St. Vincent’s.”

By pure coincidence, Barile was given a fellowship in geriatrics at St. Vincent’s Hospital, which is now closed. Next, Schrader got a residency in ear, nose and throat at Temple University. “By then, I knew I wanted to focus on plastic surgery,” she says. “I love surgery and I was always interested in reconstructing, forming, and sculpting a face.” Barile was hired as assistant professor at Drexel University College of Medicine, teaching medical students and residents. The couple moved to Philadelphia and married in 1999.

They relocated again in 2005 when Schrader got a plastic surgery fellowship at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. That same year, their daughter Maxine was born. The family lived in New Brunswick and Barile commuted to Philadelphia—not exactly an ideal situation.

“Then one day, we happened to drive through downtown Princeton,” Barile recalls. “It was an idyllic October day. The town was beautiful, not what you think about when you think about New Jersey. We really liked it. So we moved here and we both commuted in different directions.”

When son Fabian was born in 2006, Schrader decided to open her own private practice, close to home. It wasn’t easy at first. “Princeton is an old community,” she says. “It was an old hospital, and some people were set in their ways.” Barile interjected, “She’s being modest. She has always had to fight a lot of uphill battles being female. What she does is male-dominated, and it’s very competitive to practice in the northeast.”

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Schrader’s situation improved once the University Medical Center of Princeton moved from its longtime location in town to the sprawling facility it now occupies in Plainsboro. While both she and her husband work at the hospital, they rarely cross paths. “We’re in two different medical worlds,” Barile says. “We hardly ever see each other at work.”

But outside of work, they make time for family and friends. Barile enjoys music and has studied guitar, drums, and most recently, piano. Schrader is an exercise enthusiast who enjoys walking her dogs along the canal and Mountain Lakes preserve. She loves to travel and often has to persuade her husband to go on trips. “I’m more of a homebody,” he says. “But when she convinces me to go, I’m always glad I did.”

The house they purchased three years ago is not what they thought they wanted. “It was built in 1885 or so,” says Schrader. “It’s a lot of house and yard. We had been looking for a contemporary, but oh well…we enjoy it. We’re so happy to come home to it. And that’s what matters.”