Photographs by Chris Ware
When it comes to health care, the choices you make can — literally — save your life. Whether it’s a prescription for medication, a diagnostic examination, or a trip to the hospital, you need to know that you’re getting expert advice and care from top-flight medical professionals. This is especially true when choosing a physician. Besides being highly qualified and versed in the latest techniques, you want a doctor you know you can talk to and trust — in short, a doctor who really cares about you and your health.
How do you go about finding such a caring and qualified person? One place to start is right here. The medical data research firm Castle Connolly asked local doctors — as well as hospital administrators and other medical staff — to nominate the top doctors in their own, and related, specialties. After tallying the results — and checking each physician’s education and other credentials — the firm compiled this list of the Valley’s top doctors. These 90 physicians represent 31 specialties, from allergists to vascular surgeons. While only you can decide which doctor is right for you, we hope the list will serve as an important tool in your future health-care choices. Stay well.
Samuel Book, M.D.
As a young man growing up in Rockland County, Samuel Book wasn’t sure he was cut out to become a doctor. “I loved science and math,” he explains. “But like a lot of people,
I was queasy around blood and wanted to avoid it.” A relative’s illness later changed Book’s mind. “I started taking care of my diabetic grandfather. I had to check his blood daily, and after a while it didn’t bother me anymore.” Book went on to graduate from SUNY Downstate Medical Center, where he also completed his residency in dermatology. Two fellowships at Yale University Medical School followed.
He explains what drew him to a specialty of treating skin conditions: “A close friend of my family’s was a dermatologist, and I’d always thought it was an interesting field. Most people with skin problems are well. They aren’t terminally ill. Their ailments are treatable, so there is a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. It’s not a depressing field. I liked the variety, too, of dealing with everyone from children to elderly patients.”
Book says the combination of offering both curative medical treatments and cosmetic work for patients is especially satisfying. “While I was doing my residency at SUNY, I got interested in taking my dermatology studies to another level — of helping people with skin cancer,” he says.
At the Center for Skin Surgery (his New Windsor practice), Book uses state-of-the-art technology such as Mohs micrographic surgery, a technique for treating certain skin malignancies. Specially trained at Yale to perform the procedure, Book is one of a handful of doctors in Orange County who uses the Mohs technique.
“Mohs has been perfected in the past 10-15 years. It allows us to remove just the diseased tissue with pinpoint accuracy, sparing much of the surrounding tissue,” he says. “It’s done with local anesthetic, right in the office setting. We can remove a growth, analyze it, and usually do any plastic surgery that might be needed, all at once.” He treats about 80-100 patients using Mohs each month.
He adds: “People get worried when they hear the diagnosis ‘cancer.’ But now, in almost 95 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers, there’s cure with surgical removal, and people can go right back to their normal routine. That’s why I recommend a full-body skin check for everyone once a year. If something is found and treated early, most people can live happily ever after.”
Book, who also teaches at his Yale alma mater and is affiliated with
“It’s a nice balance, because cosmetic work is rewarding, too,” he notes. “And it doesn’t have to be anything drastic. Sometimes a patient will have just the crow’s-feet lines around their eyes treated, and they’re so happy with the results.
“Most of my patients are focused and realistic about what cosmetic surgery can — and can’t — do. They know a minor wrinkle isn’t the end of the world. And they know that if they’re 75 years old, they’re not going to look like they’re 25 after a procedure. But still, many say they feel like a million bucks afterwards.”
Younger people also can reap the benefits of dermatology or cosmetic treatments, he says. “They might have something like excess facial hair that embarrasses them, and feel so much better when it’s removed. If a procedure like that helps a person’s self-esteem, it’s worthwhile.”
When asked what skin-care tips he can offer, Book’s advice is simple and straightforward: “Use moisturizers with sunscreen in them. The main things we stress are using sunscreen and having yearly full-body skin exams.”
Book, who lives in Spring Valley, laughs at the notion of having free time for relaxing pastimes. “I have four children under the age of seven. So if I’m not working, I’m usually doing something like playing with Elmo, or ice skating or biking, with the kids.”
Susan Gibbons, M.D.
Albany Medical Center
Dr. Susan Gibbons almost opted out of a career in medicine for a rather, um, quirky reason. “I didn’t like the color white and didn’t want to wear those ugly white lab coats,” she laughs. “I was very young!”
Gibbons, who grew up in New Jersey, graduated with a degree in biology from the University of Utah, which she followed up with a master’s in the same subject from Michigan State University. But once she started on her planned career track as a science college professor, “it turned out there was a lot of grant writing and administrative work involved. I wanted to move more toward biology, which I love,” she explains.
A suggestion by her husband Chris, a teacher, turned her career around. “He mentioned that I should reconsider medical school, because I love to teach — both patients and students. I knew I wouldn’t be happy in a career that didn’t somehow include biology, and realized med school made perfect sense.”
Gibbons enrolled at Michigan State College of Human Medicine and in her third year, did a month’s rotation in radiology that included a week in the department of radiation oncology. She knew she’d found her niche. “I really connected with the patients,” she recalls. “I felt very much a part of it; that was where I belonged.”
After doing a radiation oncology residency in Michigan, Gibbons, along with Chris and their two daughters, moved to the Albany area. They’ve lived in the Valley for 15 years. She’s been chairman of the department of radiation oncology at Albany Medical School since 2002, and practices radiation oncology at Albany Medical Center.
“We see at least 300 patients a year,” most of them outpatients, says Gibbons. Her department provides radiation for a variety of cancers, including head and neck, breast, gynecological, gastrointestinal, lung, prostate, and brain tumors. “Every cancer is different and every patient is different, so I approach each person as an individual and make treatment recommendations accordingly,” Gibbons says.
She primarily deals with breast and gynecological cancer, and also focuses on pediatric cancer patients, noting that Albany Medical Center has the only pediatric oncology center in the mid- and upper-Hudson region.
“A lot of the patients really win my heart, especially the kids. It never seems fair — especially for children — to get cancer. But fortunately, there are lots of breakthroughs in treatment, lots of advances in treating all types of cancer. There’s so much new in terms of technology, too. We use the latest equipment such as IMRT (intensity modulated radiation therapy) and IGRT (image-guided radiation therapy) that targets cancer very precisely. Our main goal is to treat the cancer as thoroughly as we can, while being kind to the surrounding tissue.”
The field of oncology “can be emotionally challenging” for a doctor, admits Gibbons, who likes to recharge by gardening and taking hikes, especially in the Adirondacks.
She says her dedicated staff are vital in making everything run smoothly. “It’s a wonderful group of people who are very professional and compassionate. We don’t just work together; we like each other. We eat lunch together. We know each other very well, and this encourages good communication, which is so important,” she says.
Gibbons also encourages lightheartedness in the oncology department. “It helps patients cope better with a traumatic period in their lives. We do things like decorate the walls, dress up for Halloween, and have ‘crazy hat day’ for patients and staff,” she says.
“We realize that cancer treatment can be stressful and tiring. So if we can provide some diversion for our patients — along with the professional, high-quality care we give — it may make it a little easier for them to get through the whole process.”
Luciano Barone, M.D.
Warwick. 845-986-2058 W. Milford, N.J. 973-728-4480
“I was still in high school when I decided I wanted to be a doctor,” says Dr. Luciano Barone. “I enjoyed being around children and always saw myself growing up to be a pediatrician.”
He recalls: “My godfather also inspired me. He was a pediatrician at Columbia Medical Center — I happened to be his very first patient as a newborn when my parents arrived from Italy. He was very helpful in guiding them as newly arrived immigrants. He took care of my childhood aches and pains; I also had some breathing problems and he treated them, too.”
Barone says he’s grateful that his career path unfolded so early in life. “It really helped me stay very focused in high school,” he notes. He went on to earn a medical degree from Cornell University Medical College, and now practices with the Herbert Kania Pediatrics Group, with offices in Warwick and northern New Jersey.
“Over the years, pediatrics has been shifting toward more preventative care and guidance,” notes Barone. “Nowadays, we do more to stay ahead of possible problems, to nip them in the bud. For instance, today there’s more focus on preventing asthma in children in the first place, than just on treating it. Our preventative care also includes maintaining best body weight by avoiding fast foods.”
Pediatric treatment in general has become more streamlined and efficient, he explains.
“We’re admitting fewer and fewer children to the hospital. It’s also encouraging to see diseases like meningitis virtually disappear in my lifetime. I used to see it every couple of months; now it can mostly be prevented with vaccines. There’s also been a dramatic reduction in things like ear infections that used to be so prevalent in children. Instead, I’m seeing an increase in cases of autism; perhaps because we’re more tuned in to making the diagnosis. This early intervention helps us with the therapy of the condition.”
Barone, who is affiliated with Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at Westchester Medical Center, treats patients from newborn up to age 21.
“In my practice, I’ve seen one generation after another,” notes Barone, who has been a pediatrician for 27 years. “It’s rewarding to treat a child, see them become an adult, and then sometimes treat their own children, too.”
Barone says his favorite leisure activities include travel and music, art history, and “history in general.” He lives in Warwick, and raves about the small-town lifestyle. “I enjoy watching the children who my own kids grew up with become healthy adults. And I like living in a small community where I can have a personal relationship with patients. It’s a lot different from an impersonal, big-city clinic setting.”
Kevin Dodd, M.D.
“I wasn’t one of those people who knew I was going to be a doctor from the moment I came out of the womb,” laughs Dr. Kevin Dodd. But the seed of love for medicine was planted when, as a teen, he helped out in a medical research lab. “I did have some mentors, including a friend of my parents who was a medical researcher in Manhattan. I worked some summers assisting him; he was studying neonatal jaundice, and I found it quite interesting.”
When Dodd first got to college, he majored in math. “I thought I might want to become an engineer. I knew I wasn’t cut out to become a businessman.”
His early interest in medicine and research later resurfaced, and Dodd eventually opted to become a doctor. He received a degree from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and afterward completed his internship, and a residency and fellowship, at NYU Medical Center.
He’s now a partner at Hudson Valley Gastroenterology, with offices in Kingston, Woodstock, and Margaretville. He is affiliated with Kingston and Benedictine hospitals in Kingston, and Margaretville Memorial Hospital. Dodd now exclusively works in the field of gastroenterology, which involves the testing and treatment of the digestive tract and related organs. “I’m especially interested in biliary (involving bile) and pancreatic work,” he notes (although he does offer treatment in all areas).
Much of Dodd’s work involves endoscopy — the general term for instruments that contain a flexible tube with a tiny camera on the end, allowing the doctor to gain a bird’s-eye view of the digestive tract. “All told, we probably do more than 2,000 endoscopy tests a year,” he notes.
“There are constant advances in this field, and remarkable equipment is becoming available,” he says. “For example, we’re doing more tests known as capsule endoscopy, where the patient swallows a small capsule that actually contains a tiny video camera in it, allowing us to see inside their digestive tract. It sounds very sci-fi, like something out of Fantastic Voyage. There’s a lot of wonderful technology becoming available.”
Dodd notes that certain tests that once made patients gag — literally — are now much easier to swallow. “In one test, to measure the pH of the esophagus, patients used to have a tube inserted down their nose, into their throat, and had to walk around like that for a couple of days. Now, we do this kind of testing much more easily using wireless technology and a computer chip.”
Dodd says other new instruments now being tested help make diagnosis and treatment extremely precise. One such instrument is the Spyglass Direct Visualization System, which uses high-tech mini-camera equipment to enable doctors to look directly at areas, such as the bile duct, that were once considered unreachable.
“All this new technology allows doctors to become more therapeutic,” Dodd explains.
“We’re not just finding things; we’re also fixing them.
“Another nice thing, too, is that doctors here in the Valley are not sending as many patients out of the area. It used to be that, if a patient had a stricture, had a cancer, we would need to send them elsewhere for treatment. But now we’re able to offer many treatments right here.”
A Westchester native and former Manhattan resident, Dodd says he moved to the Valley years ago purposely for the sake of a more-relaxed lifestyle. He and his family have lived in Saugerties for 11 years.
“I’m an avid athlete, and we’re lucky to live in a region like this with so much to do outdoors,” he notes. “I love tennis, golf, and I ski as much as possible. My six-year-old son and I even do father-son ski trips. Spending time with him doing sports helps keep my blood pressure down — usually,” Dodd laughs.
Nancy Miller-Rivero, M.D.
Poughkeepsie. 845-454-3030 www.hudsonretina.com
“I’ve been interested in medicine for a long time,” says Dr. Nancy Miller-Rivero. “In between college and med school, I spent time at the National Institutes of Health, working on projects in immunology. That really encouraged me to pursue ophthalmology. I decided I wanted a sub-specialty that would combine my interest in medicine, immunology, and surgery — and ophthalmology seemed like a perfect fit.”
A graduate of Cornell University Medical College, Miller-Rivero did her residency at the Jonas Friedenwald Eye Institute in Baltimore, and completed fellowships at the National Eye Institute and at Yale.
Miller-Rivero practices at Hudson Retina in Poughkeepsie. She works primarily with diseases of the retina (the back of the eye), and the vitreous, the eye’s gel-like covering. “I love being able to literally see what’s happening with a patient. I can look into the back of the eye and see the pathology, see what’s going on with the blood vessels.”
Many of her patients are diabetics, “because problems with the eyes can indicate diabetes,” Miller-Rivero explains. She also performs surgery for diabetic hemorrhaging, detached retinas, and other eye conditions. “And we get called sometimes for acute traumas, such as if a child gets hit in the eye with a baseball.”
Recent advances hold promise for treating some of the most severe and devastating eye conditions, says Miller-Rivero. “There’s been significant progress with conditions like macular degeneration — which can cause blindness — in the past five years,” she notes.
“In some cases, we’ve even been able to restore vision, using injectable drugs. Macular degeneration often used to be a dead-end in terms of successful treatment, but every step forward is helping. In fact, our practice is a site for a study of a new macular degeneration drug so new advances are always happening.”