Cheryl Breckler doesn’t seem to think she’s done anything unusual, but these days, she is a rare find. For the past 50 years she has had the same job, as a medical assistant supporting doctors at Santa Rosa Orthopedics. On top of that, she’s so happy in her work she’s not sure if she wants to retire. “It’s like family here and I like what I do. It’s been very rewarding,” she explains. “I’ve seen our patients grow up, get married and have kids. Now some have grandkids like I do. Coming to work is like coming home.”
Cheryl’s caring philosophy has always been to treat others like you would like to be treated yourself. She keeps in touch with patients, and is concerned that when she leaves they will lose touch. “Cheryl’s devotion to her patients sets the benchmark for patient care and compassion. She is the most loyal person I’ve ever worked with. Her commitment, with 50 years of service and essentially no sick day absences makes her a ” super hero rock star,” said Dr. Gary Stein, who has worked side by side with Cheryl for 20 years.
Right out of high school, Cheryl was attending Santa Rosa Junior College, where she studied anatomy and medical terminology, when she got hired at SRO. “I had an aunt who worked for a family doctor in Santa Rosa, and she heard they had an opening for a medical assistant. I actually got hired because I took shorthand,” Cheryl said. This was in 1967, and it was her first– and her last– full-time job. “When she started at SRO she used “short hand” for patient medical history taking, long before the days of computers,” Dr. Stein said.
Immediately, Cheryl was immersed in the world of medical practice. Her learning curve was high, and among other things was trained to take x-rays. Cheryl describes how she sat in with the doctors during patient visits, taking notes, and later transcribing them into the patient’s chart. “Everything was done with carbon paper at that time, that’s how far back it goes. The medical assistants fought over the electric typewriter,” she said, yet still stays close with girls she worked beside 20 or 30 years ago. “It’s been a close-knit group over the years. “
When Cheryl started at SRO, there were four doctors in a small building across from Memorial Hospital, with two medical assistants. A year later they moved to a larger building across the street. “It was a very close team of doctors and staff. I liked working with the doctors and was very interested, and learned a lot on the job.” Cheryl says she has been working with Dr. Stein so long she can hand him what he needs before he asks for it. “We’ve got a pretty good flow going. I can call him and say ‘Rose called about her shoulder’ and he’ll say ‘oh, how’s she doing? We have a shared memory just from working together for so many years.’”
What initially captured Cheryl’s attention were the patients. “It was interesting watching terrible fractures and how the doctors fixed them, the healing process, and how patients did afterwards. It was very intriguing. It was fun looking at the x-ray because you could figure out what was wrong, and watch and see how the doctor’s treated it. I’ve seen a lot of amazing results over the years. From terrible accidents to arthritis, people that had a lot wrong with them are put back together. ”
Over the years, Cheryl has seen amazing progress in orthopedic treatment. In the early days of the practice, the doctors were treating bones with plaster casts. “Before, if you had terrible arthritis in your hips they would be able to only do a partial replacement. Now, they do whole joint replacements and people go back to doing sports and activity in record time. It’s really rewarding to see that. I like the before and the after. I see people come in limping, and a month or two later after surgery and therapy they’re back to doing the activities they love most.”
As technology advanced, Cheryl’s job also evolved. Gone are the paper charts and typewriters. Now she’s doing a lot of what she calls ‘paperwork’ getting insurance authorizations and scheduling. “She has stayed current with technology as it evolved and transformed medical care, but never sacrificed the personal touch with patients in a technical world,” Dr. Stein said.
Along with her caring nature, people that know Cheryl know her passion for horses. She is an award-winning Western-style horsewoman, and in fact, the first thing she bought with money from her job at SRO was a horse. “The only time Cheryl gets sidetracked is when you bring up her horses, or anything about horses for that matter, her passion, then she may talk for “a while,” Dr. Stein mused.
Cheryl and her horses have achieved significant accomplishments that she is rightfully proud of. She vividly describes being part of what was likely the first horseback-packing venture around the 120-mile Lake Tahoe rim in the early 1990’s. Cheryl and a group of seven like-minded adventurers embarked without a guide or maps and completed the inspiring trek in 12 challenging and memorable days. “It was the most awesome experience of my life. It was just amazing. A really fun and exciting adventure,” Cheryl said. There were no posted signs along the vast majority of the trip, and the group traveled 3-6 hours each day depending on the terrain. “One night we got stormed in and found an old deer camp and put plastic tarps over our packs and huddled by the campfire under the tarps for the night. You have to like to rough it, but it was fun,” she said.
Cheryl also won a national award in reining, no small feat in her early ‘50’s. Reining is a program of working the horse in a prescribed pattern. Participants are judged on spins, circles, and a full-throttle run and a sliding stop. Cheryl won the state title two years in a row, and was also placed on what’s called the honor roll, which is the top 10 in the nation.“I was so proud of that. It was a big accomplishment for me. I was in my 50’s, and competing with people who had a lot of money and better horses. I worked hard for it, and so did my horse,” she said.
Nowadays, Cheryl enjoys trail riding with her granddaughter, and going to shows, she still does some maneuvers on her horses, and doesn’t rule out the possibility of showing a horse again. Currently she owns three American Paints and one Quarter horse. Her favorite thing is horse camping in the Sierras. She used to go with a group of friends and is hoping to do some more of that after retirement. A lover of nature, Cheryl is also an avid gardener. Her yard boasts seven raised planter beds growing a variety of vegetables and flowers. Passersby are greeted with a row of sunflowers that line the front yard and a big row of zinnias framing the driveway.
Cheryl’s husband has already retired, and they are both very proud of their three grown sons and four granddaughters. One son owns a printing business downtown Santa Rosa, one manufactures coffee roasters for Loring Smart Roast Inc., and the youngest works for Verizon. After retiring, Cheryl is looking forward to having some time to herself, her family, and time to spend with her 93-year old mother who is still going strong. She’ll get more riding in and time in the garden as well. But after all these years, it’s hard to think about leaving SRO.
“I love working with the patients and Dr. Stein, it’s been my life since Junior College. I think my car will still turn on and bring me here in the morning!” she says. When Cheryl does retire she will be greatly missed by her “family” at SRO. “Cheryl’s experience as a Medical Assistant of 50 years has made her a pro to say the least,” Dr. Stein said. “Her knowledge and expertise have earned her the name “Doc Cheryl.”