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Retire? There’s still so much to see and do

Maintenance-free lifestyle at Fox Run supports those in the workforce

Created date

May 8th, 2018
A photo of Dr. Steve Lerner poses in his office

Steve Lerner spent his career researching and teaching medical students and advanced trainees about infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance. He continues to work parttime doing clinical consultation and giving lectures.

Dr. Steve Lerner has had a long and rewarding academic career in infectious disease, with a special passion for antibiotic therapy and appropriate antibiotic use. Last August, he officially retired from his full-time position as a faculty member at Wayne State University School of Medicine. But he has continued to work part time, doing clinical consultations with students and trainees for two-week stints, totaling about three months of the year.

The ‘antibiotics guy’

As a result of his many decades of research and clinical experience with antibiotics and bacterial resistance to them, Steve has become known as the “antibiotics guy” at Wayne State, lecturing on the topic at the medical school every four weeks and in various other setting throughout the year. He also gives an annual interactive talk on antibiotic resistance for the fellows in the infectious disease training program.

“I still have an office in the department, and I am still doing some mentoring of residents and students,” Steve says. “I do that because I think it’s important and I enjoy doing it.”

Steve is part of a growing national trend of older Americans who are either continuing to work for longer or returning to work after a period of retirement. A 2017 survey from nonprofit research organization RAND Corporation found that almost 40% of people age 65-plus who were currently working had previously been retired.

“We definitely see evidence that retirement is fluid,” study coauthor Kathleen Mullen told The New York Times. “There’s less of the traditional schedule: work to a certain age, retire, see the world. We see people lengthening their careers.”

Quite a career

Steve earned both his undergraduate and medical degrees from Harvard University in Boston, Mass. After clinical and research training at Harvard, the National Institutes of Health, Stanford, and again in Boston, he began his career in 1971 as an infectious disease professor at the University of Chicago. He came to Wayne State as a professor of medicine in 1986.

“Early in my career, I was interested in bacterial evolution and antibiotic resistance,” Steve says. “I realized that excessive use of antibiotics was counterproductive, and I developed guidelines for appropriate use. I also did research on the mechanisms of bacterial resistance to antibiotics and clinical trials on new antibiotics that might be better than what we had available.”

It was through his research that Steve met his wife Lisbeth, a physician in Sweden working on similar research during the 1970s and 1980s. As they got to know one another, Steve and Lisbeth realized they had seen each other at professional events several times over the years but didn’t officially connect until 1988.

Lisbeth relocated to Detroit in 1991, and the two married. Lisbeth went on to work in infection control and hospital epidemiology at three different hospitals.

In 2002, Steve was asked to be associate dean of faculty affairs at Wayne State Medical School. He served in that role until 2009, when he returned to faculty, but decided not to resume his laboratory research. He remained involved in the medical school’s faculty governance until he retired in 2017.

Ideal lifestyle

It was Lisbeth who first became interested in Fox Run. She encouraged Steve to take a look at the community.

The couple previously lived in a house on an acre-and-a-half property in Southfield, Mich. Steve says taking care of the house was a burden, so the notion of maintenance-free living at Fox Run was appealing.

“I’m not handy and had little time anyway, so the upkeep was a problem,” Steve says.

At Fox Run, Steve and Lisbeth selected a sunny corner apartment home on the ground floor, which means they can walk right outside to their patio. They enjoy attending meetings, seeing movies in the clubhouse, and having dinner with their neighbors at the community’s on-site restaurants.

“One of the nice things is that every time you eat, you’re often with someone new,” Steve says. “The food is great, and there’s always something really good to eat.”

Working less, volunteering more

Now that he’s no longer working fulltime, Steve has taken the opportunity to dedicate more time to the Michigan Antibiotic Resistance Reduction Coalition (MARR), a nonprofit organization he started in 1997 to reduce excessive antibiotic use.

The organization first created a program to educate physicians about proper use of antibiotics.

They then developed a program for elementary school children called “Antibiotics and You.” Pharmacy students from Wayne State and other schools make presentations at Michigan schools to teach the kids about proper handwashing, the benefits of appropriate antibiotic usage but the potential for antibiotics to lose their effectiveness, and common sense to encourage natural resistance infections.

“We then developed a more advanced program on antibiotics and bacterial resistance for high school students for presentation by their teachers,” Steve says.

Steve says he and his colleagues in MARR are working on an educational program on antibiotics and bacterial resistance for older adults, which he hopes ultimately to present at Fox Run.

The group is also working on educating dentists about complications, as well as the desired benefits, that can arise when antibiotics are used for dental procedures.

“Now that I have more time, as I do less and less work, I will probably engage more and more with MARR,” Steve says. “I really enjoy it.”

World travel and more

One of Steve’s other passions is international travel. As his academic career took him all over the world for meetings and conferences, Steve often added on excursions to nearby locations. He traveled frequently to Russia for his work and has also visited most of the countries in Asia, Europe, and South America; Cuba three times; and Egypt, Kenya, and Tanzania. And that’s not counting personal trips taken with Lisbeth.

Steve is quick to recall his most memorable trip: “The most remarkable place I’ve been is Antarctica—because it’s like not being on this planet,” he says.

Steve has three children from his first marriage and four grandchildren. Over the years, he’s made a point to take his children on special one-on-one trips. He and his daughter, who is also a Harvard-educated physician, have taken two-week trips to Laos and Myanmar and to the highlands of New Guinea.

“That was one of the greatest trips of my life,” Steve says. “It was not until the 1930s—the decade I was born in—that the outside world even knew there were people living in the highlands of New Guinea, and of course, vice versa.”

Steve says there are a few places he hasn’t yet visited. First on his wish list is South Africa, and he’d also like to go to Chile.

“I’m grateful for my opportunities to travel, and I hope to continue while I can,” he says.

Although his work and travel don’t leave him with much free time, Steve has gotten involved with some of the resident-run activities at Fox Run. He is a member of the Shalom Group, which organizes celebrations for the Jewish holidays and other programs on Jewish topics.

When he has more time, he plans to join a memoir-writing group, the Yiddish club, and the photography club.

“I’m really pleased to be here,” he says. “I’ll definitely become more involved in the future.”