Uniting two desires, a love of science and a wish to help others, ultimately led Cleveland Lewis, MD, to his career in medicine.
“I’ve always been interested in science,” says Lewis, who grew up in Wilson, North Carolina. “My father was a high school biology teacher who had always wanted to be a physician himself. But as an African American male — he was born in 1931 — growing up in North Carolina, my father’s chances of being a physician were not zero, but they were not high.”
Lewis says his dad never pushed him to become a doctor. “He did not give me undue pressure; it was something internal, something I always felt inside myself that I wanted to do.”
Lewis graduated from high school at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, a public residential science and math academy for promising students located in Durham. He went to undergraduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
He did his medical training, general surgery residency, cardio-thoracic surgery residency, and a fellowship at Duke University School of Medicine, and later moved to New York State.
Lewis is a specialist in cardio-thoracic medicine, which involves treatment of diseases of the chest. He’s now in a private group practice, Rockland Thoracic & Vascular Associates, and heads the Lung Tumor Program and Oncology Quality teams at Orange Regional Medical Center in Middletown.
Lewis says that lung cancer is “by far the most prevalent disease that I deal with,” though he also treats benign masses, complications from problems such as pneumonia, and chest trauma, and other conditions.
“The biggest breakthrough in thoracic medicine in the past 10 years has been the development of minimally invasive surgery and robotic surgery in the treatment of lung cancer,” he says, noting that studies have found that patient outcomes using the minimally invasive procedure are generally equal to traditional, chest-opening surgery. “The big differences with robotics are the reduction in time the patient stays in the hospital and the decrease in post-operative pain.”
Another big shift in the area of lung cancer involves a boost in screening for the disease. “Earlier this year, annual lung-cancer screening became approved by Medicare,” says Lewis. “With the Affordable Care Act, almost anything deemed preventative must now be covered by Medicare, so they’re coming on-board.”
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services now authorize annual low-dose CT lung screenings for people age 55 to 74 who are current smokers who fall into certain categories, or who have quit smoking within the past 15 years.
“So now, the same way we have certain criteria for breast cancer, in terms of when it’s recommended to get a mammography, and when to have a colonoscopy for colon cancer, based on risk factors — this now also applies to lung-cancer screening.” The goal of these screenings is to decrease the number of people diagnosed with lung cancer.
Lewis notes that even though fewer people are smoking these days, “we haven’t yet seen a significant decrease in the incidence of lung-cancer deaths.” This is partly due to lag time, he says, in which the damaging results of smoking may not show up for decades.
“In the early part of the last century, lung-cancer deaths made up less than three percent of all deaths in this country, largely because, at that time, there weren’t manufactured cigarettes,” he says. “Now, lung-cancer deaths make up more than breast, colon, and prostate cancer [deaths] combined. Around 160,000 Americans are expected to die of lung cancer in 2015. So screening continues to be very important.”
Lewis, who lives in Newburgh, believes in setting a healthy example.
“I’m a big proponent of fitness,” says Lewis, who works out in the gym several times a week. A busy father, he also makes time to coach the kids’ basketball team at Bishop Dunn Memorial School in Newburgh. “With three boys, who are 14, 12, and seven years old, I guess I’m locked into coaching for the next several years,” he laughs.
Catherine Bartholomew, MD, was born and raised in the Hudson Valley. An Albany native, she graduated from Russell Sage College in Troy.
Following a stint at the University of Houston in Texas, Bartholomew earned her medical degree at Albany Medical College in 1984.
After graduation and an internal medicine residency at Albany Medical Center, she began a fellowship in gastroenterology at Albany Medical College.
“I decided to stay in Albany,” Bartholomew says. “My family’s here, and I started my career here.” Today, that busy career includes treating patients at Albany Medical Center as well as teaching medical students.
“As faculty members, we give classroom lectures to first- and second-year medical students, as well as to graduates who are medical residents,” Bartholomew explains. “And, as a gastroenterologist, I also take part in fellowship training. We balance all that with an office clinical practice, making rounds in the hospital, and taking night calls. It’s exciting. I’ve never regretted that I chose this path.”
Even as a youngster, she recalls, “I always wanted to be a physician. In middle school, I decided that’s what I was going to do. My father was an engineer; I looked at engineering, but always had it in my head I was going to be a physician. And I never once thought, as a woman back in the 1970s, that I’d never be able to do it.”
Bartholomew admits it can be challenging to juggle a demanding career and home life – including raising two daughters. But she’s made it happen. And she’s not the only physician in her family: Her husband, Anthony Ritaccio, MD, heads the Epilepsy and Human Brain Mapping Program at the medical center.
Today, along with her role as full professor in the medical college, Bartholomew is chief of the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Albany Medical College.
Gastroenterology involves conditions of the digestive tract and related organs. “We see a variety of patients; some are in the hospital with significant GI medical issues; others, we treat in the office,” she says. Many GI treatments, Bartholomew says, are done with endoscopes — tiny, flexible tubes with mini cameras attached on the end, allowing physicians to see inside the body and perform procedures without requiring traditional open surgery.
“It’s considered a nonsurgical procedure, but the results are comparable to surgery,” she says. “Some endoscopy is combined with ultrasound, to get a detailed look at, say, the stomach lining.”
Breakthrough treatments in the field of gastroenterology include an endoscopic procedure approved in July by the FDA that’s used in bariatrics. “It’s a saline-filled balloon put in place endoscopically” into the stomach through the mouth, Bartholomew says. “It temporarily distends the stomach, so people feel full sooner during a meal.”
She says the medical center hopes to introduce the procedure soon, “as a bridge, mostly for certain patients who are thinking about having full bariatric surgery. It helps them get started in their weight-reduction program.”
Digestion may not be a particularly glamorous topic, but it’s certainly an important one, and, according to Bartholomew, people are paying attention to it more than ever. Still, “healthy food can be an interesting paradox,” she says. “Some actually tend to cause more stomach upset than junk food does, because healthy fruits and vegetables give some people bloating, even diarrhea. Moderation, she says, is key. “You don’t want to overload your diet with fiber, for example. Some people go sort of crazy with fiber, then have discomfort because they overdo that one food group.”
Others, she says, “hear about low-carb or gluten-free diets, and come into the office convinced they’re gluten-intolerant. Some people do find that eliminating different things in their diet — like going on a low-gluten diet for a period of time — can give improvement. Yet sometimes, months later, they say the symptoms come back, indicating it was more than just gluten involved. So I recommend eating a healthy diet, but don’t go to extremes. Sometimes, lowering carb content or gluten might help you feel better. But I don’t suggest eliminating something entirely, like gluten, unless you have been diagnosed with celiac disease.”
When it comes to her accomplishments in the medical field, Bartholomew is modest about being one of very few women who head a hospital’s division of gastroenterology.
“I do participate on some national medical-society committees, and speak at women’s leadership conferences, like various American Medical Women’s Assoication engagements,” she says. “I hope I can offer mentorship and inspiration to female medical students. I’d like to help make sure women realize they can excel in this area while still raising a family, and have a lot of fulfillment in many realms.”
Children are the core of Dr. David Fenner’s medical practice – and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Every day, I see kids from newborns all the way up to their mid-20s,” says Fenner, an MD who is president of The Children’s Medical Group, a private practice with nine offices throughout the mid-Hudson Valley.
“As a pediatrician, my patients range from absolutely healthy kids to those with chronic, serious illnesses. It’s quite a variety, a blend throughout the day.”
Fenner grew up in Michigan and moved to New York State as a senior in high school. He completed undergrad studies at SUNY Plattsburgh, then went to medical school and completed his post-grad training at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx.
When it came time to choose his training path in medicine, Fenner realized his “people person” traits were drawing him toward primary-care medicine, where he could develop an ongoing relationship with patients.
“In primary care, like pediatrics or family practice or child medicine, you spend your day interacting with patients — or, in my case, young patients and their families. I wanted continuity and a relationship with the families and kids.”
By comparison, he says, “in a hospital-based situation, you’ll spend more of your time interacting with colleagues and medical staff.”
Fenner says he’s among many — both medical professionals and members of the public — who lament the nationwide demise of primary-care physicians. Economics, he says, has a lot to do with it.
“Medical school has become tremendously expensive, and primary care doesn’t pay nearly as well as specialty fields. So I think many medical students are finding it hard, even if they’re interested in primary care, to do it because of the student debts they’ve incurred. When I went to medical school, it was much less expensive. My first year in med school, tuition for a full year was $3,750, and, by my last year, when I graduated in 1980, it was about $6,600. Now it can be $60,000 and up a year.”
Still, some med students do choose primary care. “You have to go into it wanting to be someone’s doctor, as opposed to being a surgeon — and I have great respect for surgeons. But their interaction is different; they perform a procedure and fix you up, and, after recovery, rarely see the same patient again.”
Fenner, who practices primarily out of the medical group’s Rhinebeck office, is also chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie.
When it comes to the current state of pediatrics, “I see two contrasting trends,” he says. “One involves the things we often hear about — the increase in obesity, drug use among kids, all the negatives.” But, he says, “there’s also an increased interest in health in many families. Some families and kids are really getting with the program.”
Another key issue involving kids, especially teens: “They’re so sleep-deprived. One reason is that kids are glued to their digital devices and computers day and night. The wavelengths in the light emitted from smartphones and computers can affect the eye; they don’t allow your brain to turn off properly, so the body’s sleep mechanism is affected.”
Fenner, who lives in Poughkeepsie, says he promotes the concept of a three-legged stool, an antidote to stress – exercise, sleep, and nutrition — to help stay healthy.
“There’s actually a fourth leg, too,” he adds. “Fun is that fourth leg — decreasing some of the stress and pressure that parents and schools put on kids, and emphasizing having some time just for the joy of childhood. It’s all very simple: Eat healthy, exercise, get some sleep, and have some fun.”
Service to others is another key part of Fenner’s personal formula for optimal living. He’s traveled 17 times with the nonprofit group Healing the Children, performing surgical cleft-lip and cleft-palate repairs on kids in third-world countries, mostly in South America. He’s scheduled for a trip to Colombia this autumn with the organization.
“I do the pre-operative screening and post-op and discharge care; my job is the direct patient and family contact. It’s given me a wonderful new perspective,” he says. “I’ve realized that no matter if I treat children in my own community or in an entirely different country, rich or poor, I come to the same conclusion: Kids are the same everywhere.”
When Jean Park, MD, was a teen pondering possible career choices, she first considered a future in science or engineering. An Ohio native, Park studied at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, earning a BA in chemistry in 1998. “But I eventually realized I wanted to interact more with people,” she says, so Park ruled out a strictly research-based career.
She opted for medical school, graduating from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in 2002 and completing her residency in Internal Medicine at University Hospitals of Cleveland. She met her future husband in Ohio, and they decided to move east. Dr. Park then trained in Manhattan, with a focus on rheumatology, completing an award-winning fellowship in rheumatology at New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases, where she combined her medical know-how with her love of working with others by teaching med students and medical residents.
But she didn’t turn her back on research; Park studied the role of inflammation in osteoarthritis at the laboratory of Dr. Steven B. Abramson, a noted professor and researcher on inflammation and arthritis, and chair of the Department of Medicine at NYU Langone.
Park published several scholarly studies on her research and, along with another student at the Manhattan school, was honored with an international scholarship from the Japanese College of Rheumatology in 2008.
“That was really fun,” she recalls. “I got to travel to Japan and speak at their annual meeting,” Park says. There, she presented her research on enzymes that synthesize certain molecules, which, in turn, play major roles in arthritis inflammation and tissue destruction. “It was an honor to take part in that event,” she says.
Park now lives in Westchester and is in private practice with Somers Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine; its main office is in Carmel. She works primarily with patients who have rheumatoid arthritis, which involves inflammation of the joints. “I also do a lot with osteoarthritis and osteoporosis,” she says. Osteoarthritis — the most common type of arthritis — relates to the gradual breakdown of protective cartilage in joints; osteoporosis involves thinning and weakening of the bones. “Many people think that osteoporosis is just a female problem, but men can have it, too,” says Park, a member of the American College of Physicians and the American College of Rheumatology.
Among the challenges of her practice: helping patients deal with conditions that can be debilitating. “Some people with arthritis or osteoporosis find they can’t really function well on a day-to-day basis due to pain or lack of mobility, so it’s rewarding when we can help improve someone’s quality of life.” Progress is continually being made in the field, she says, including shifts in suggestions about the use of some popular osteoporosis treatments. “The FDA has recently been recommending that certain prescription bone-building drugs like Fosamax, Actonel, and Reclast not be used long-term,” she says.
Park recalls a 2012 report in The New England Journal of Medicine, the US Food and Drug Administration raised concerns about potential side effects in women taking drugs known as bisphosphonates. The report referred to studies that found the drugs may actually hike the risk of certain rare side effects. “Each case is different, in terms of both osteoporosis and arthritis,” says Park, who is affiliated with Putnam Hospital Center in Putnam County. “But we’re fortunate, because new drugs keep coming out that can continue to help improve patients’ lives.”
For many people, simple steps can help stave off thinning bones, she says. “Take calcium supplements if your doctor says it’s okay, eat well, and do some weight-bearing exercise. I also suggest having vitamin D levels checked,” says Park. “Tried-and-true recommendations like these, along with medical screening for osteoporosis, generally do help.”