HumAnes of UCLA: Michael Sopher, MD

Introducing Michael Sopher, MD, Vice Chair for Clinical Affairs and Clinical Professor of Anesthesiology

Michael Sopher, MD, and his granddaughter

March 17, 2023

Where did you grow up? Where did you complete your education and training?
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, completed college at Brandeis University, medical school at UCSF, and residency and fellowship at UCLA.

What was your childhood dream?
It’s so far back that it’s hard to remember, but probably being an airline pilot.

What do you like to do for fun outside of work?
Skiing, traveling, enjoying concerts and plays, and spending time with friends and family.

What is your favorite book, movie, song, or TV show, and why?
My favorite movie(s) are The Godfather series—in their time, they were really epic. My favorite song is “Stairway to Heaven.” As a teenager, one of my first major concerts was a Led Zeppelin show in San Francisco, so I will always remember that.

Do you have any special talents?
Not any to speak of. I’m quite talented at pestering people at work, and for that, my apologies!

Tell us a little about your family (and any pets).
I have been married for over 35 years, have two grown children, and now five grandchildren. No pets right now, but we did have two Vizslas over the span of almost two decades. I really loved them!

What has been your favorite vacation destination so far?
I spent a year in Italy when I was 11 years old with my family, so returning to Italy decades later with my wife and children was probably my most favorite vacation. My most meaningful vacations, if you call them vacations, were my multiple mission trips doing pediatric heart surgeries in Arequipa, Peru.

What do you like the most about your job?
It is so varied. I actually still really enjoy being in the operating room, taking care of patients and working with residents, fellows, CRNAs, surgeons, and nurses. I do less medical school teaching now, but for the past two decades, I did a lot and found that really enjoyable. But I also like managing the workforce when I run the board.

And I enjoy the administrative duties as Vice Chair of Clinical Services. This involves sorting out conflicts between surgeons, nurses, and our personnel, developing workflows that optimize care for our patients, create OR efficiencies, while trying to preserve a work-life balance for our workforce (not always so easy!), and especially trying to help our clinicians with life events that may impact their clinical work. A big job is helping to make the monthly schedule which can be one giant puzzle (probably for everyone!). Additionally, I help assess our workforce size, assist Dr. Cannesson in making clinical hiring decisions, and manage the clinical incentive payment system. Of course, I could not do this without the help of many people, especially Dr. Swati Patel. Often, these responsibilities can be challenging, frustrating, and difficult, but at the end of the day, extremely rewarding.

What are some of the biggest ways that our department has changed over the years?
When I was a resident starting my CA-1 year on July 1, 1985, our department ran 15 operating rooms (ORs) at the Center for Health Sciences (CHS) before Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center was even a thought and 3 ORs at Jules Stein Eye Institute. We had one dental room and one site that we used for lithotripsies—that was a brand new technology, and UCLA was the first hospital in the U.S. to do them. At the time, Santa Monica Medical Center was a private hospital that was not part of the UCLA Health system. The 200 Medical Plaza, and in fact the combined 100, 200, and 300 building site, was a bunch of really nice tennis courts! And the Reagan Medical Center site was a large parking lot. So physically, the department is nothing like what it used to be, and we are probably about 5 or 6 times the size we were back then.

But we have changed in many other ways as well. Our overall research productivity is significantly increased, and our research funding has skyrocketed compared to the past. I really think the caliber of the residents is so high that I am certain there is no way I would be able to get into this residency program if I were applying today.

Michael Sopher, MD, and his kids

A lot of little things have changed, too. For example, attending physicians did not initially take in-house call, so the resident “team” led by a senior resident “team captain” worked independently in the Main O.R. and Labor and Delivery unit during evenings and weekends. This is how the whole “team captain” terminology came about.

We also didn’t have a residency match in anesthesiology. The whole process was sort of a negotiation, which was very complicated and unnerving.

We didn’t have computer lab printouts, and pulse oximetry was just starting. We got our first three pulse oximeters during my first year of residency, and if you were doing a pediatric case, you had to come in at 5:00 a.m. to secure one so you could feel comfortable about the oxygenation of that baby. Charts were all handwritten since there was no EMR. There were no ultrasound machines for line placement and no intraoperative TEE, for that matter. And of course, there were no video laryngoscopes or laryngeal mask airways (LMAs), so difficult intubations were really challenging! Lots of changes!

Anything else you’d like us to know about you?
The funny thing about aging is that in many ways, our perception of ourselves stays the same. I still think of myself as that junior attending whom everyone called Michael instead of Dr. Sopher—there was something nice about that.