Feb 06, 2014 at 12:00 am by Staff

Pediatrician, Physician Associates Orlando Health ORLANDO - Caregiving is a craving for Alix Casler, and satisfying that urge is a 24/7 quest that stretches from her clinic to her kitchen table."The thing that makes me feel good about myself is taking care of other people," said Casler, 52. As medical director of pediatrics at Physician Associates Orlando Health, where she has treated young patients for almost 20 years, and as mother to five teenagers in a blended family, Casler has had a steady supply of caregiving responsibilities to feed her feel-good vibe. Some of it she inherited from her parents as she grew up in Niantic, Conn., playing French horn, running on the cross-country and track teams, and working as a beach lifeguard and camp counselor. "My parents were THE influences in my childhood," said Casler. Her father is a PhD pharmaceutical research chemist and her mother is an Ivy League philosophy and mathematics major who, Casler said, "was a stay-at-home mom until I was in college and she went back to work as a math teacher. Mom was always totally supportive of all of my involvements and activities, making them possible by giving up her professional life for me and my (younger) brother. She became a different woman when she went back to work." That example, said Casler, "made me realize the importance of achieving a balance between a profession and mothering, both of which are equally important."Just as inspiring, Casler said, was her father's "can-do" attitude. "He taught me to milk the essence out of life ... to do, do, do, give, give, give and live, live, live!" she said.Clutching her high school valedictorian award, Casler went to Dartmouth College where she majored in 18th century French literature and minored in chemistry and molecular physics. "I studied what I loved and figured that my career goals would evolve as they should," said Casler. While dabbling in singing and acting, it wasn't until her sophomore year that she began to think about medicine."I knew I wanted to work with children. I just did not know how. Something about them gives me breath and life," explained Casler. "I knew I did not want to teach (because) teachers work too hard for not enough respect and pay, and I did not want to be a nurse (because) I did not want someone else to define my work. I wanted to be in charge. So, medicine made sense," Casler remembered.But as she studied at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, Casler said she "got a little derailed because I loved everything. OB/GYN was so cool because of the miracle of delivering babies and the excitement of doing surgery. Psychiatry was totally fascinating, but sort of depressing at times. Internal medicine was an intellectual rush." But one night Casler was at a party "having had one glass of wine too many while talking with a new acquaintance," she said, "and it all became clear. I was bemoaning my difficulty in choosing a field to pursue and he said 'When you talk about pediatrics, you sparkle. That is what you need to do.' I never turned back and have never been sorry."After graduating medical school in 1987, Casler said she "needed to leave the New England culture," and she embarked on her internship and residency in a bold way at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. "It was a very hands-on inner-city program. I learned by doing. I was in my 20s and admitting 20 patients a night. It was the best way for me to become an expert in what I did at one of the top three (pediatrics) programs in the country," she said.But the cost of living there was prohibitive so she followed her compass east to Florida, starting a private practice from scratch in Brevard County. "I made a big mistake by going into practice by myself and building from the ground up. I got very busy very quickly. I couldn't do it all," Casler said. "I was brought up to believe that I could do everything. But I can't. I can do anything, but I can't do everything," and that is a lesson that is "relevant to all women" she said. "I have had to learn, over and over, to compromise and to prioritize."Casler had friends and colleagues in Orlando and they welcomed her to PruCare, which is the corporate predecessor of Physician Associates, one of largest multi-specialty practices in Central Florida with 25 locations. "We worked very hard to transition. I'm proud to have been a part of that," said Casler, who now oversees 20-plus providers as she devotes "100 percent of my time toward clinical care and improving patient health and outcomes."During her 20 years in Orlando, Casler's reach has extended beyond her patients. She was an on-air radio and television personality for seven years, answering questions about pediatrics, and she remains a go-to source for local television stations when they need a physician's perspective on breaking health news.Casler is also on the faculties of the University of Central Florida and the Florida State University colleges of medicine. Her affiliation with UCF has given her the opportunity to engage in humanitarian missions to the Dominican Republic, where "we deliver much-needed care to some very, very poor areas," she said.Casler and her husband John, a retired U.S. Navy officer and an optics engineer for Lockheed-Martin, are restoring their home, a 112-year-old house near Lancaster Park. "It's an ongoing labor of love and my husband does most of the work. I'm the designated sander and painter," she said.The hub of the Casler home is the kitchen. "I am a foodie. It is part of my essence in life to make lunches for my children every day and to provide dinner for my family every night I possibly can. Preparing food is an expression of love for me, and cooking is a creative outlet. I like to eat, too, (but) I also love to just hang out with my family," she said.Her family includes five young adults, ages 19, 19, 19, 16 and 16. "We are a blended family and I have twins. They are involved in everything: Air Force ROTC, FSU cheerleading, substitute teaching, lacrosse, yearbook, mock trial, chorus - you name it. They keep my calendar full," Casler said.But that does not stop Casler from adding formidable pursuits to her bucket list. She already is fluent in French, but she is determined to conquer Spanish as her next language. She would like to write a book "from the perspective of a pediatrician mom, about bringing up children while working. I've had a lot of experience on both sides of that subject," she said.Yet another goal combines her love of food and being outdoors. "I want to move to Tallahassee and raise sheep and make cheese. I like being outside, good food and being creative," said Casler. "I have a colleague who has a similar fantasy, but with goats. Maybe she'll do her chevre and I'll do my feta and we'll meet up at the Aspen Food and Wine Festival. We'll raise herbs, too, and we'll have bees and make our own honey. My husband will handle the wine pairings."In the meantime, Casler said, she will continue to dish out what fills her up. "All I have to do is give and feel good. There aren't very many people who get to do that for their whole lives. It sounds oversimplified, but it's a very emotional thing for me."

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