From allergists to surgeons to pediatricians, meet the Valley’s finest physicians, as chosen by their peers.
profiles by Ann Morrow â€¢ photographs by Chris Ware
Whether it’s an astute financial planner, a competent lawyer, or even a reliable plumber — finding top-flight professional services isn’t always an easy task. And when you’re looking for a doctor, the search for the best in the business becomes even more crucial. You can check the phone book or scan the Internet, but many of us rely on recommendations from family and friends.
Or you can rely on Castle Connolly. The medical data research firm has asked their friends and colleagues — physicians and hospital administrators from throughout the Hudson Valley — to nominate the top doctors in their own, and related, specialities. After tabulating the results and checking each doctor’s education, board certification, and other credentials, they’ve confidently compiled this list of local “top docs.” Featuring 90 MDs in 30 specialities, the roster also includes profiles of six physicians whose work is especially noteworthy. Of course, if your doctor didn’t make the list, that doesn’t mean he (or she) is not a wonderful physician. Ultimately, only you can decide which doctor is best for you and your family. Hopefully, this list will serve as a valuable tool to help you take charge of your own well-being. So here’s to your good health.
Dr. Chester Robbins
family medicine, benedictine hospital, ulster county
“A geriatrician is often a doctor who stops medications.” Dr. Chester Robbins first heard those words in a lecture in 1990, and since then, he has achieved dramatic improvements in older patients throughout Ulster County simply by recalibrating their medications. “The elderly are usually much more sensitive. People don’t realize that the doses have to be adjusted way down,” he says.
And Robbins would know: For 18 years, he has been the medical director of Golden Hill Health Care Center, a 280-bed nursing home in Kingston. “One patient, a woman I’d been seeing for years, had a seizure and broke her hip,” he recalls. “She was admitted to a hospital and had her hip fixed, and never woke up, in terms of returning to her previously alert mental state — she was very lethargic and drowsy. I realized that the seizure medicine that the neurologist had given her was probably accounting for her symptoms. I changed her medicine, and she woke up and was fine. She eventually went home.”
The Ivy League-educated family practitioner (Cornell University, Dartmouth Medical School) received additional certification in geriatrics in 1990. It was a smart move. According to the U.S. Census, the population of people 65 and older grew rapidly for most of the 20th century, from 3.1 million in 1900 to 35 million in 2000. In addition, at least 80 percent of seniors have at least one chronic health condition, and 50 percent have at least two. “I felt geriatrics was an area that was important and that was being neglected,” he says. “When I was in practice, I realized that a lot of my patients were older and had multiple problems, and that they were different problems than average-age patients have. Many people have mental-health issues, and difficulty in finding a practitioner to address them,” he continues. “Other patients have problems with older relatives, or maintaining an older spouse at home. So whether it’s depression or marital issues or problems with their children, their family doctor is the one they come to.” Robbins was recertified in 1999.
At his family-medicine offices in Kingston and Saugerties, he treats patients of all ages, including children, but says he finds his subspecialty in elder care to be especially challenging. “It’s the breadth of practice,” he says. “It’s overwhelming for an elderly person to take care of everything. Just to give them some assistance — that lets them stay in their house, or visit their family or participate in family affairs — is very rewarding.
“I wish more doctors were interested in geriatrics,” he adds, and then admits that this burgeoning field isn’t usually regarded as the most thrilling in medicine. “It’s not perceived as being very sexy,” he says with a gentle laugh. “I don’t see many TV shows on it.”
Dr. Regina Resta
“For whatever reason, I certainly made the right choice,” says Dr. Regina Resta, in answer to why she became an oncologist. “I think there’s no other field in medicine where you get to know the patient so quickly. You become involved in their whole life.”
It was her interest in patient care that led her to specialize in lung, breast, and colon cancers, three seemingly unrelated areas. “They are among the most common malignancies,” she says. “As a doctor in the community, as opposed to a doctor in academics, you have to be able to do all these things.”
Originally from Brooklyn, Resta works in Troy, Rensselaer County, for New York Oncology Hematology, a network of 45 doctors with 12 offices in the upper Hudson area. The organization was formed to provide a convenient and comfortable alternative in cancer care; Resta joined NYOH about nine years ago. “What we do runs the gamut from treating patients who are terminally ill to taking care of patients and curing them and following them long-term,” she explains. “That’s the best part of my job — the personal experience of seeing the patient in the office every week and guiding them through therapy.”
In addition to her office practice, she has the benefit of NYOH’s five state-of-the-art cancer centers. “We primarily treat cancer with chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and newer agents such as monoclonal antibodies,” she says. “In medical oncology, the newest technology has to do with what we call targeted therapy, where we are able to deliver treatment more specifically to the tumor as opposed to normal tissue.
“Traditional chemotherapy is pretty nonspecific. Newer agents, such as monoclonal antibodies, or drugs that are based on particular genetic mutations seen in cancer, are much more tumor-specific,” she continues. “It’s very exciting. This is what I went into oncology for 20 years ago. I could see this coming down the pike.”
Resta’s “pike” began in medical school at Washington University. “I really liked the basic science that was going on in oncology. It seemed like a very promising field to go into,” she says. “And then when I actually did the rotation as a medical student, it was fantastic.”
But as she acknowledges, the rapid pace of new advances can be tough to keep up with, and science is still a long way from eradicating grim prognoses. “It can be a very emotionally draining job when you’re taking care of patients who don’t do well, which is very common in oncology,” she admits. Her strategy for coping consists of “taking good vacations” and relying on the support of her husband, who is also an oncologist.
And also, it would seem, by focusing on successful outcomes, such as a young teacher she began treating about eight years ago. “He was just married and was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease,” she says. “We gave him chemotherapy and radiation, and he was cured. Three years ago, he and his wife had their first baby. Last year they had their second. Whenever he comes into the office,” she adds with enthusiasm, “he brings them.”
“Hodgkin’s has been treatable for about 40 years,” she continues. “Now, more and more diseases are more treatable. The most rewarding aspect of my job is seeing patients at the six-month follow-up and knowing they are doing well.”
Dr. Jean Chelala
neonatologist, putnam hospital center,
“We’re not able to decrease the number of premature babies that are born — the number is actually increasing. So we are at the receiving end, helping babies with immature lungs — basically all their organs are immature,” says Dr. Jean Chelala, a neonatologist at Putnam Hospital Center, in Carmel, Putnam County. “We manage them and work with them until they are ready to go on their own.”
As Chelala describes it, managing tiny newborns — whose weight often is measured in ounces instead of pounds — is an almost unimaginably delicate field. “Every single patient we have has a multitude and diversity of problems over all their organs,” he says. “Every day, we deal with every problem in every single organ.”
But though it’s fraught with dangers on a miniature scale, neonatology, he says, has its own very special rewards. “Babies who need help need it urgently,” he explains. “You really help them, when they’re born with no heart rate, or they’re not breathing. You do something, they pick up, they do well, and you feel really good. You see the results of your acts instantaneously,” he adds. “It’s not like in research, where you don’t know the outcome of what you do.”
The most pressing problem, he says, is usually the lungs, but another life-threatening consideration is bleeding in the brain. “Premature babies can have bleeding in the ventricles” — the more preemie they are, the more the risk, he reports. “The other problem is giving them too much oxygen — they can develop retinal damage, because the vessels in the eyes did not develop all the way. Preemies also have immaturity of the intestines,” he continues, “so they can have complications like necrotizing and inflammation and infection. We’re very careful feeding them,” he adds. “We feed them slowly and are very vigilant.”
A graduate of St. Joseph’s University in his native Lebanon, Chelala did his residency at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, followed by a fellowship in neonatology at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland. “What makes my job special here at Putnam is that I’m available 24 hours a day,” he says. “I’m there for the babies from the moment they’re born. I give them all my time. My wife and my kids have adjusted to it. Because I’m always on call, we can be shopping, or in a restaurant, and everyone knows that if we need to go, we need to go!”
During the nine years that Chelala has been an attending physician at Putnam, he has seen major advances in technology for sick and premature newborns. “Things are much better than in the past,” he says. “We’re using new ventilation technology before these babies are delivered, and steroids, and antibiotics for the mother. And nitric oxide and surfactant after they’re born. With new strategies, we are able to increase the survival of preemies, and to bring the gestational survival age to almost 23 weeks.”
Chelala is careful to explain that it’s not just sophisticated equipment, such as digital ventilators, that is improving the health of preemies, but also the manner in which it’s used. “We used to be aggressive in incubating and ventilating,” he says. “Now we let the babies do a little more work so there’s less damage caused to their lungs.”
But despite the best of care, nature has its boundaries, and he finds that being confronted with the limits of viability is the most difficult aspect of his job. “The technology we have is so advanced, but we sometimes get to the point where we cannot push it anymore, so we stop.” Conversely, he finds that even at the limits, miracles do occur. “Every patient is rewarding,” he says, “but we have patients who really go against all odds, patients that sometimes make us think, â€˜that’s it, we cannot do any more, let nature take its course.’ And then they turn around and prove us wrong.”
Dr. Charles Glassman
internal medicine, good samaritan hospital,
“A lot of times in medicine we treat people by what the textbook tells us. But nobody is a textbook,” says Dr. Charles Glassman. “I’m guided by what is called evidence-based medicine, but I will take a step outside the box, look at it, and decide if there are alternatives that might work for this person and benefit them without side effects.”
One big step outside the box for Glassman, an internist with privileges at two Rockland County hospitals, was to open a new practice in preventive medicine — and in a new kind of preventive medicine, which he describes as integrative. “It’s more of a holistic approach,” he says. “I do treat conventional illnesses, but what I really focus on is the idea of what I call the five fingers of health, which are mental health, nutrition, exercise, physiology or body chemistry, and the fifth is the unknown of what makes up individual patients and their disorders.”
Glassman’s new office, the New York Center for Longevity and Wellness, opened more than a year ago in Pomona. “My other practice was the typical kind of practice, where patients are in and out very quickly,” he explains. “I needed to make a change so I could integrate my knowledge in concert with their lives, including their lifestyles.”
A graduate of New York Medical College, he has been a practicing internist in Rockland County for 18 years. He deflects any criticism that might arise from his nontraditional — but increasingly accepted — methods. “I like to be the reasonable and rational voice in the community when it comes to questions such as â€˜how do we prevent certain illnesses,’ ” he says. “What I find is that people are taking their own vitamins and treating themselves. I like to be the point person they can come to and sort out what they’re supposed to do. What does the science say? What is safe for them to take? And what is really the more holistic approach to health care,” he continues, “rather than pulling out my prescription pad and writing a prescription as a reflex.”
He describes his average patients as people in their 30s to 70s who might not necessarily have active medical issues but want to optimize their health. “They can’t really identify it,” he says. “They might feel fatigued, they may be getting sick with colds and flu, they may have sexual dysfunction, and they want to see what I can do without a prescription,” he says. “Sometimes people need prescriptions,” he admits. “But if they’ve been abusing their bodies for 40, 50 years, there’s no vitamin or strategy that is going to reverse that automatically. It’s a slow process,” he emphasizes, “and it has to do with the full balance of nutrition and lifestyle.”
Glassman lists diabetes, depression, men’s health issues, and gastrointestinal complaints as areas in which he’s been particularly successful. “One of the things I can do very well is get people off the chronic use of heartburn medication, which I think has a lot of negative long-term side effects,” he says. And he’s had good results with natural hormone replacement for women and men, noting that the hormones he uses are not from a pharmaceutical company, but come from a compounded pharmacist (“someone who puts together natural substances,” he explains). He also works with various specialty labs to help tailor individual diagnoses and treatments.
Perhaps the most important aspect of optimal prevention, he says, is the mind-body connection. “Often people will ask me what is the one thing that they can do to stay healthy, and I say it’s the ability to manage stress,” he says. “Stress relief and developing strategies to elicit the relaxation response is something I talk to my patients about a lot. It’s why I became an internist in the first place,” he adds. “I like taking people as a whole, and looking at the totality of a person’s life, not just their illness.”
Dr. Olanrewaju Somorin
addiction psychiatrist, orange regional medical center, orange county
Dr. Olanrewaju Somorin came all the way from his native Nigeria to live and work in Orange County, where he has two offices, in Middleton and Monroe. It wasn’t exactly a direct route. After graduating from medical college in Lagos, he began training in addiction psychiatry in England, and then embarked on a four-year residency followed by a one-year fellowship at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. But when he was looking for “a good place to raise a family,” he chose Orange County. And there was another reason for the move north: he wanted to be less than an hour’s drive from his church.
But aren’t psychiatrists supposed to be atheists? “Right,” he says cheerfully, “but now, believe it or not, there is a spiritual component to addiction. To deliver health care in a spiritually sensitive way, you have to know the patient’s beliefs. Exploring people’s spiritual beliefs so you can deliver support is getting more popular.”
Yet, as his churchgoing attests, Somorin was already committed to spirituality before he started working at Orange Regional Medical Center six years ago. “I enjoy addiction psychiatry because it has a medical component, but I like the psychosocial and 12-step spirituality aspect of it also,” he says. “Those two things are of great interest to me.” He also works closely with faith-based, 12-step programs in his private practice. “One thing I do is encourage people to attend AA, NA, and faith-based meetings so they can be integrated into their community and develop a sober support network.”
But as he is quick to explain, Somorin is very much a man of science, and is board certified in addiction psychiatry as well as certified by the American Academy of Addiction Medicine. “I’m very up-to-date with scientific research,” he says. “I think what distinguishes me is that I look at patients from a multidimensional point of view: the medical aspect, the spiritual aspect, and the psychosocial aspects. And I think I’m a very empathic physician,” he continues. “I like to get to know my patients very well and to be connected to them, so I know what approach to use. Do I need a social approach, in terms of getting the family involved? Do I need to use an individual approach, a medication approach? I do all that in my practice.”
Even his addiction work is specialized. Somorin’s area of expertise is with opiate dependency, and he lists the most common addictions as prescription painkillers such as Percocet, Oxycodone, Tylenol with codeine, and street opiates like heroin. “Those are the addictions I treat the most. There is outpatient medication treatment that is extremely effective, and which prevents people from having to go inpatient to get treatment,” he says.
The newest and most effective drug, he reports, is Buprenorphine. “It’s a synthetic opiate that helps block the cravings for opiates that people have when they try to get off them,” he explains. “A lot of people don’t even know about it yet, they’re not aware that they can get help just from a doctor’s office.”
So does Somorin think that addiction is primarily biochemical? “No, I think it’s biological and social, as well as a spiritual disease. There’s a medical piece to it,” he says with certainty. “That’s why I think assessment is extremely crucial. If you wait until a liver-function exam is abnormal, you’ve lost valuable time. When I see a patient, I can tell them what they need, whether it’s group counseling or being admitted to the hospital for detox. I don’t think medication is everything,” he adds. “I come from all aspects.”
After describing several patients who could not maintain sobriety after standard drug rehabilitation, Somorin says he wants people to be aware of new advances in medication and psychosocial counseling which can be faster and more effective in relieving cravings. “What I enjoy the most about my practice is how quickly patients feel better after starting treatment,” he says. “And the rapid change in their lives. One woman said to me, â€˜It’s like a dark cloud has been lifted.’ Because addiction touches everything in a person’s life.”
Dr. Hendrik Uyttendaele
Think that skin cancer is just a dermatological nuisance for sunbathers? Then consider these two facts: over one million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States annually. And more than 20 people die from it every day. Dr. Hendrik Uyttendaele, of Hudson Dermatology in Dutchess County, has a medical degree from the University of Louvain in his native Belgium, and completed a residency in dermatology at Columbia University. He also has a Ph.D. in pathology from Columbia. “The focus of my practice is, first and foremost, medical and surgical dermatology,” he says. “Our main function is to detect and treat skin cancer. The rates are increasing every year, especially in younger people. That’s why our number one job is to detect these cancers as early as possible.”
Hudson Dermatology has four physicians and three locations, in Poughkeepsie, Fishkill, and Hopewell Junction. When Uyttendaele, who lives near Kingston, says he loves the area, he’s not talking about mere scenic pleasures. “I can offer a whole range of dermatological services here, as opposed to more populated areas like New York City,” he enthuses. Although his practice offers every medical and cosmetic skin procedure imaginable — from treatment for acne to Botox and other fillers, to chemical peels and V-beam therapy — it’s all part of the mission “to detect skin cancers as early as possible so we can provide the best treatment and possibly save a life.” What’s especially important, he says, is finding indications of melanoma, a potentially fatal form of skin cancer.
“For instance,” he says, “I had patient who came in for a lesion on the face because his wife was concerned about it. It turned out to be nothing, a benign little growth. But because every new patient is completely examined, we detected a melanoma on his back, which is a very common site for men to develop melanoma. Unfortunately, they get detected late because no one looks at it. But because he came in for a growth, we were able detect his melanoma early.”
Hudson Dermatology is also one of the very few practices in the Valley to offer Mohs surgery for skin-cancer excision. A type of micrographic surgery, Mohs reportedly has the highest potential for recovery while leaving healthy tissue unharmed. “It means taking a tiny little margin from around the cancer when you cut it out,” explains Uyttendaele. “It lets the patient stay in the waiting room while you check the margin for cancer, take another little sliver in the same area, and check it again. That way you can sort of cookie-cutter out the cancer without taking any extra skin. And as a result, you have a very small scar.” This training-intensive procedure requires the physician to serve as surgeon, pathologist, and reconstructive surgeon.
“We’re a very complete facility,” says Uyttendaele. “We really try to provide the best care possible, which is why we take more of a medical approach to dermatology.”
Allergy and Immunology
Pascack Valley Hospital
2 Crossfield Ave., Ste. 406, West Nyack, NY 10994-2212
Affiliation: Nyack Hospital
Special expertise: Asp