Soccer Star Turned Orthopedic Surgeon Serves At-Risk Populations

Jeffrey G. Stepan, M.D. ’08C

Hand surgeon Jeffrey G. Stepan, M.D. ’08C first heard the call of service at St. John’s University—and continues to answer it today. A native of California, Dr. Stepan recalled that the combination of the University’s high-quality academics and diverse offerings in athletics attracted him to St. John’s, as well as the opportunity to study in New York City.

Dr. Stepan, a Chemistry major, played on the Men’s Soccer team under heralded coach David Masur ’03Ed.D., whom he considers a profound influence. “He constantly pushed us to our limits, and sometimes a little bit beyond,” Dr. Stepan explained. “That was instrumental in overcoming any difficulties I had with academics, and the lessons he taught served me well in my career. He definitely made me more resilient.”

Dr. Stepan served as Team Captain during the 2007–08 season and was named a BIG EAST Conference Scholar-Athlete. He was also part of the President’s Society, membership in which is the highest honor a St. John’s student can achieve.

During his sophomore year, Dr. Stepan began considering medicine as a career path. “I always found the sciences the most interesting subject in school, and eventually I chose chemistry as a major.” While at St. John’s and spending hours in the labs he was exposed to formative life lessons inside and outside of the classroom. “I saw learning about the sciences—chemistry, biology, and physics—as a means to help people.”

One of Dr. Stepan’s initial forays into service were Midnight Runs. Offered by Campus Ministry, these are direct service opportunities in which students travel into New York City distributing food, clothing, and toiletries to the homeless. “That was extremely rewarding,” he noted, adding that for him the experience wasn’t simply about distributing the items, but was more about conversing with those he served and listening to their stories.

Upon graduation, Dr. Stepan attended Washington University in St. Louis, MO, for medical school, eventually returning to New York City for his medical residency at the Hospital for Special Surgery. He returned to Washington University for another year of training, and now serves as an Assistant Professor and Hand Surgeon at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Stepan’s role there includes research, teaching, and full-time surgery. “One of the great things about where I am now is being located on the south side of Chicago, which is an underserved area. We’re kind of the ‘primary caregiver’ for a high-need patient population. Many of the patients I see are uninsured. There are all kinds of challenges to delivering adequate patient care, not least of which is transportation and getting them to their therapy appointments.”

A recipient of numerous academic and professional awards, Dr. Stepan secured more than $80,000 in grant funds for the Hospital for Special Surgery, is widely published in national and regional academic publications, and has presented at several national conferences.

He hopes to continue his academic career and inspire medical students and residents to become caring surgeons. “I want to do more research on social determinants of health and how at-risk populations are affected,” he noted.

Service in all its forms, Dr. Stepan recalled, harkens back to his St. John’s experience. As a student, he traveled to a ravaged New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and helped clear the debris and land for homes to be rebuilt. “So much of who I am today was formed at St. John’s,” he said.