When the parents of Drs. Matt and Mark Schultzel found out that they were pregnant with twins — while in their 40s and 17 years after the birth of their third child — they were certainly surprised. What hasn't surprised them, however, is the close relationship their two youngest children have maintained into adulthood and their impressive achievements.
Matthew Schultzel, DO, is a surgeon who specializes in colorectal and minimally invasive robotic surgery. Mark Schultzel, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon affiliated with Sharp Community Medical Group, specializing in shoulder and elbow surgery. Both are affiliated with Sharp HealthCare — and both are great admirers of each other's work.
In fact, the identical twin brothers have admired one another since they were little. Calling themselves "built-in best friends," they traveled the world with their family, as their father worked as an international business consultant, learning multiple languages along the way.
"Our parents believed that it was important to learn and speak the languages of the countries we were in," Matt says. "And we know that being comfortable with other cultures has made us better, more empathetic physicians. We were inspired by the people we met and learned how similar we all are, instead of focusing on our differences."
Both doctors are highly respected in their fields and credit their upbringing, along with their relationship, for their success. Noting that they were "womb-mates" who became roommates, they did everything together until their graduation from UC San Diego, when they parted ways to attend different medical schools.
Along the way, they played the same sports and shared many of the same activities, including kendo, a traditional Japanese martial art that uses swords. Eventually, they reunited in San Diego, with medical degrees in hand. Both set up their respective practices and found that they are better together — at least in the same city — than apart.
Extending their support to others
"Good care is centered on teamwork and respect," Mark says. "Although we can be competitive, we are also incredibly supportive of one another and deeply respect each other. This affects how we work, allowing us to strive to be the best at what we do and provide excellent care that is both compassionate and cutting-edge."
The support they offer each other has not waned as their careers have prospered. Mark beams with pride about his brother's designation as "Top Surgical Oncologist in San Diego" by the American Cancer Society and recognition in UC San Diego's Top 40 Under 40. Matt is in awe of his brother's most recent venture as an entrepreneur who launched a company, Ethos Mask, to create and donate thousands of 3D-printed surgical masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, all while treating patients and pursuing a master's in business administration at UC San Diego.
The doctors are also active medical volunteers and medical student mentors. They credit the support they received from their family and each other as a blueprint for the kind of support others might need as they cope with the stress and burnout many young medical students and doctors experience.
"Being a surgeon is not the easiest field," Mark says. "This is especially true in Matt's field, where he often treats acutely ill patients. It takes an emotional and mental toll."
Having a brother who is also a colleague they greatly admire has provided a great foundation for Mark and Matt to flourish and manage challenges. Not only do they share a personal history, they can also openly discuss their professional stressors with someone who truly understands and empathizes with them.
"Matt gets me," Mark says. "He's been my support system since we were born and still is."
Identical, yet unique
However, there are differences between the two young surgeons. Matt says that Mark is bubblier and more approachable — very outgoing — while Mark calls Matt a little more subdued. That is, until you get to know him.
"Matt can be reserved," Mark says. "But his staff is fiercely loyal to him and recognize that he is so exacting because he wants to give the best care possible for the best possible outcome. Once you get to know him, he's hilarious."
He's also a bit of a softy. When asked about his family, his dog, Thor Von Schultz, gets nearly top billing. A giant Great Dane, Thor is a bit of a celebrity, with tens of thousands of Instagram followers and a role in an upcoming live-action Scooby-Doo TV reboot.
And while the two only occasionally get mistaken for one another in the hospital halls — "I'm a little more 'frowny' than Mark," Matt admits — they do appreciate the opportunity to work together when it arises, often thrilling colleagues and patients alike.
"We have done combination surgeries before and patients really get a kick out of it," Mark says. "We truly enjoy getting to provide excellent care together. Matt and I are synced — on the same wavelength — even during surgery and it's lots of fun."
A shared philosophy
They're also in sync with The Sharp Experience care philosophy. Both agree that it is the whole approach to treating patients, from entry to exit, that makes all the difference.
"Happy patients lead to happy doctors, which lead to happy hospitals, and that is what Sharp hospitals are," Matt says. "From the top down, the experience is awesome — ensuring that our delivery of health care is the best possible for patients."
Mark agrees, adding, "Our philosophy is the same as Sharp's — treat patients with the compassion, empathy and exceptional evidence-based medicine you would give your family and friends."
For the news media: To talk with the Drs. Schultzel for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.