Stephanie Taylor, Assistant Professor, Clinical Neurology

Dr. Stephanie Taylor’s chance class sign-up with her roommate freshman year of undergrad rather serendipitously set the course for her neurology career. After joining the faculty following her residency (also at Vanderbilt), Dr. Taylor has been primarily a clinician with a heart for MS patients. She loves accompanying her patients through life’s milestones over the course of many years. Anyone needing a restaurant recommendation should seek her out for consultation—Dr. Taylor and her husband have visited 186 Nashville-area restaurants to date. 

Tell us a little about your background.

I’m originally from Maryland and grew up there. I did my undergrad at [John Hopkins University] in neuroscience. Then I had a neuroscience degree and had no idea what to do with it. I did clinical research in Multiple Sclerosis first at Hopkins, then in Dallas. The principal investigator I was working with moved to Texas and offered for some of us to go with him. So I spent three years in Texas doing clinical research in MS. That experience is one hundred percent what led me to medical school. I really loved working with the patients during that research work. 

I don’t come from a medical family. Both of my parents were teachers—my dad was a science teacher and my mom was a music teacher. I ended up being a doctor and my sister pursued a creative music path. So they both taught us to follow those paths. 

How did your path lead to neurology? 

Freshman year I was paired up with a roommate who I didn’t know. We both had openings in our class schedules and we decided each of us would take a class the other was taking as an opportunity to get to know one another. At the time I had an inkling of doing some sort of science. The class she was taking that I decided to also take happened to be neuroscience. Two weeks into class I went and declared my major.

Along the way, I have been incredibly lucky in that I ended up at the right place at the right time. I end up in situations where the ‘lightbulb moment’ happens when I realize “this is where I’m supposed to be, this is what I’m supposed to do.” 

Your job encompasses several “hats”—clinical encounters with patients, education, teleneurology, etc. Do you have a favorite? How do each of these help you grow as a neurologist? 

Hands-down, clinic is my happy place. It was the entire reason I went into this field. When I was doing clinical research [before medical school], I would do research visits at the MS clinic. We would do the research part, but we always ended up talking about symptoms, diagnosis, etc. My heart is with neuroimmunology, though I do general neurology as well. I’m mostly full time at the MS clinic now. What I like about neuroimmunology is that I see a lot of young patients getting diagnosed in their 20s and 30s with a chronic disease they’ll be dealing with for a long time. So I get to accompany patients through milestone moments like finishing their grad program, getting married, or having kids. It’s almost like being a primary care provider in that we’re such a big part of their lives. But if the disease isn’t managed well it can lead to disability. So if I can, I help keep them from that. Treatments for MS are so effective right now that I can make a difference in decades of their lives. Especially with the female patients, we talk a lot about family planning, breastfeeding, etc., so I am really with them through major events in their lives. Being one of the younger physicians and being a woman lets me talk more openly about that with them and get a little bit more in depth. 

Wearing many hats keeps me well rounded. Teleneurology is so nice because it keeps me well-versed in things I might not see day to day in clinic. Things like managing breakthrough seizures or getting stroke calls make sure I don’t lose the skills from residency. 

With the educational component, I am still very close to residency, so I know where the residents are coming from or what I wish people would have told me when I was in their shoes. I’m excited because I’m taking over one of the resident clinics next year, so I’m eager to help them grow in that way. (All of the residents are fantastic, honestly.)

What is something that excites you about the future of your field? 

The medications in neuroimmunology and also just the knowledge in the field have grown exponentially even since I finished doing research. When I left my research job for medical school in 2011, we were part of the trial for the first oral medication for MS. Now there are many oral medications and all of these have a significantly higher efficacy. Older medicines maybe prevented 30% of new events, while now we are preventing 60-70% or more. You have to keep reading and learning because what we can do for patients has grown so much. It’s really cool to look back and know that I was part of that research. 

What’s something that your colleagues would be surprised to know about you? 

I’m an open book with so much, so that’s a hard question to answer. But I have a go-to interesting fact that not an insignificant number of people at work know about me: I used to play marbles competitively, and at one point I was #2 in the nation for kids under 14. I put that on my residency application. 

How did you stumble into marble-playing?

If you competed in the school event you got out of gym class so I signed up. I randomly won my school tournament and went to the city tournament, not knowing what I was doing at all. The following year I made it all the way to nationals in Wildwood, NJ. I had a coach, I did marble drills in my house. It was the most intensely nerdy thing for a future neurologist to do. 

What has been your most memorable experience so far at Vanderbilt? 

The big reason I chose Vanderbilt [for residency] was seeing the way the residents interacted with each other and faculty. What kept me here was the support that I feel like I get in pursuing what I want to do. Here in the clinic, our support staff, my nurse Jessica, our pharmacy staff here in clinic, the nurses, have been unbelievable. I don’t feel like I would get this level of support anywhere else. 

What does an ideal weekend look like for you? 

I am very not exciting and very easy to please. All I want to do is sleep in. In an ideal situation my husband would be making brunch. He’s the cook in our house. We have a house in Westmeade, so we would be taking a walk around the neighborhood with our dog Marsha. I just want to be outside. I want to be on a patio somewhere in Nashville, having something to eat or drink, or have people in our lawn playing yard games. 

Do you have any hobbies?

I don’t know if it’s considered a hobby, but we love trying new restaurants. In five years (and keep in mind we have been on hold for over a year because of the pandemic), we have been to 186 individual restaurants. A restaurant only counts if my husband and I have been there together and it’s roughly in Nashville. My hope is to start expanding that list again. 

That’s quite a long list! Any favorites you would recommend? Are you allowed to go back to a restaurant more than once?

We have our top six ranked. Nicky’s Coal Fired currency occupies #1. Awash is an Ethiopian restaurant that’s super tiny. There’s no menu, you just say meat or no meat. I don’t fully know what I’m eating, I just know that it’s the most delicious thing, and I will take whatever they will give me. But Nicky’s and Park Cafe are ones that we frequent on a regular basis. The food is great, and they both have super sweet staff. So yes, we are allowed to go back.