Our Best Doctors
The top 150 MDs in 44 specialties.
By Nancy Claus Giles
Photography by Chris Ware
We all know how essential it is to have good medical care. And we in Westchester are blessed to have many skilled doctors from which to choose. But with so many choices, how does one, well, choose? Your family doctor is a good place to start, but we always like a second opinion.
Make that about 10,000 opinions from doctors. This year our list of 150 doctors in 44 specialties—from allergists to obstetricians to vascular surgeons—was provided by Castle Connolly Medical Ltd. The New York-based research and information company surveyed some 10,000 doctors, including chiefs of major medical departments, hospital administrators, healthcare professionals and other experts in the tri-state area. A total of 520 doctors practicing medicine in Westchester were named; of those, Castle Connolly selected the top 150.
A caveat here. This survey is not the last and only word on good doctors. If your doctor is not on this list, it doesn’t mean that he or she isn’t a good or even terrific physician. (Indeed, some of our favorite doctors did not make it on this list, and we swear by them.) This list is meant to be just another tool to help you make smart healthcare decisions.
Kira Geraci-Ciardullo, MD
[Allergy & Immunology]
“Make sure you understand
SPECIAL FOCUS: I am boarded and re-certified in allergy asthma and immunology. I’m also a member of the Westchester County Asthma Advisory Counsel, which recently found that in Westchester County there appears to be more asthma in rural areas, the opposite of what we find worldwide. Such results make you think asthma may be more related to pesticides or to other external factors. It’s certainly thought provoking.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS SPECIALTY? My original training was in pediatrics, and asthma attacks were the single biggest problem we saw in the emergency room. Kids with asthma should be on a preventative program; they shouldn’t end up in the ER. Also, I have family members—I even married someone—with allergies. And I get satisfaction helping people with a disease that is treatable.
WHAT IS THE MOST EXCITING NEW RESEARCH IN YOUR FIELD? It is looking at asthma not just as a lung tissue disease but as an immunologic disease. Up until now, we’ve managed asthma with environmental controls, medications and allergen injections. But now immune modulators, such as Xolair, offer a whole new approach to treating severe asthma. Xolair is an injectable drug that acts as an “anti-antibody.”
YOUR MOST MEMORABLE CASE: I like cases where I play detective. One of my patients had a severe allergic reaction while driving her car. She pulled over and, luckily, another motorist noticed and called 911. She was rushed to the ER, and we tracked her whole day to see what she might have eaten to cause this reaction. At first we thought it was the peanut butter she had eaten earlier; it seemed the obvious culprit, but it turned out it was the two Advils she had taken before she got in her car. She had taken Advil many times before, but this time she had a reaction—and a bad one.
any hobbies? I like to read murder mysteries and detective stories. Recently, I went on a cruise on the Queen Mary II and while on the ship I listened to a lecture by P.D. James, the classic English mystery writer. Now I’m reading all her books. My husband, a plastic surgeon, makes me go out and play golf, and I ski some. My children are not following in our paths though: My son is in law school and my daughter is studying journalism at Columbia.
YOUR IDOL: While in medical school training, I did a rotation with Dr. John Schullinger, a pediatric surgeon at Columbia Presbyterian. He epitomizes what a doctor should be: very good at what he does and dedicated, thorough and concerned. He was even gentle to his patients when they were under anesthesia and wouldn’t know the difference.
BEST ADVICE FOR PATIENTS: Make sure you understand your disease and know what medications you are taking and why. And if you don’t understand, ask questions. No question is stupid as far as I’m concerned.
Lynne Perry-Bottinger, MD
“There is nothing I can do to
fix you that will be as good as
what you were born with. ”
SPECIAL FOCUS: Even though most of my patients are men, my special focus is on heart disease in women, who traditionally have been left out of clinical trials. Heart disease is an equal opportunity killer.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS SPECIALTY? My dad is an interventional cardiologist too, and he was my first role model. I grew up in Houston, TX, and in fourth grade, my teacher asked the class what we wanted to be when we grew up. I said I wanted to be a heart surgeon, but one of the boys in class told me I
couldn’t be because I was a girl. I told my parents this story, and our class ended up being invited to my dad’s hospital to watch a heart surgery.
WHAT IS THE MOST EXCITING NEW RESEARCH IN YOUR FIELD? Drug-eluting stents devices to keep arteries open, which have a substance around them that coats the arteries, making them less likely to close off. With traditional angioplasty, 40 percent of the arteries close up. With these new stents, we find only about 8 percent close up, with some studies showing a zero percent closing. Second, we have discovered that high doses of statin drugs can halt the artery-hardening process, reducing the need for surgery.
MOST MEMORABLE CASE: I was a junior attending doctor in Washington, D.C., when a 50-year-old businesswoman, in Washington on vacation, came into the emergency room. Earlier that day, she had chest pains, went to her HMO clinic, where they examined her, did an EKG, then basically told her that she was too young, too skinny, too female to have heart disease. Eight hours later she was in my ER, having an acute heart attack. During the procedure, her blood pressure dropped to zero. This was a mom with two little kids. I was able to bring her back. It’s a real cautionary tale. Here was a woman who had the education, money and a good health plan—things that should ensure good healthcare—but she nearly died.
Any hobbies? My husband and two boys are my passion. Gardening is my third child. I plant tulips and lilies, bare root roses, tomatoes and pumpkins from seeds. I like plants that die in winter and come back in the spring. My mother, grandmother, great grandmother and great-great grandmother were gardeners too, so it’s in my genes. I also love learning languages: I speak German, Spanish and French, and I am learning Russian and Chinese. I discovered track in high school, and I love running. I still try to run 10 miles a week, even when it’s snowing. It relieves a lot of stress and tension. I practice what I preach.
YOUR IDOL: My mother was a pediatrician, and she has a way of taking incredibly complex materials and translating them to children and their parents. My dad used to give us rambling two-hour lectures every Friday afternoon. When I got to medical school, I was thrilled to find that the lectures there were only an hour long. So I like that my mother was so concise.
BEST ADVICE FOR PATIENTS: Take care of your body: exercise, get enough sleep, maintain a good diet and control stress. There is nothing I can do to fix you that will be as good as what you were born with.
“When we finally
unravel the mystery of Alzheimer’s, I truly
believe that long-term care facilities will
SPECIAL FOCUS: Caring for the physically frail, cognitively impaired elderly.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS SPECIALTY? Because of the relationship I had with my own grandparents who were second-generation German immigrants. We lived in small community, Sheboygan, WI. We would celebrate holidays, anniversaries and birthdays together. In addition, my father owned and operated long-term care facilities for the elderly
WHAT IS THE MOST EXCITING NEW RESEARCH IN YOUR FIELD? There are some promising memory-enhancing drugs on the horizon that will help those with Alzheimer’s. When we finally unravel the mystery of Alzheimer’s and other related disorders, I truly believe that long-term care facilities will empty out the
way the mental health facilities did in
MOST MEMORABLE CASe: Every individual is unique, and every one is memorable. Each patient has been my instructor. They are my textbook.
any hobbies: I’m an avid cyclist, and I try to put in 60 miles on weekends riding around Katonah and Bedford.
YOUR IDOL: Frances of Assisi because of his commitment to humanity and love of nature—his overwhelming humanity.
BEST ADVICE FOR PATIENTS: Stay active, stay involved, do not withdraw from life around you. Most disabilities—heart disease, diabetes, etc.,—are determined by lifestyle rather than by nature.
Gary P. Wormser, MD
“Seek out healthcare providers who base their diagnosis and treatment on scientifically validated information rather than anecdotes.”
YouR SPECIAL FOCUS: Tick born diseases, HIV and complex medical problems.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS SPECIALTY? This is the most interesting subspecialty because it’s diverse and the diagnosis and treatment are so precise. Ebola is very different from influenza and the treatments are very different and precise. The field of infectious diseases is rapidly changing, with new diseases or at least newly appreciated diseases emerging. We didn’t know about AIDS prior to 1981 or Lyme disease until 1977. Legionnaire’s, E-coli, ehrlichiosis—all are newly appreciated diseases.
WHAT IS THE MOST EXCITING NEW RESEARCH IN YOUR FIELD? There is so much going on in so many areas, so I’ll just tell you about my most current research. I’ve recently completed studies comparing Lyme disease in Missouri and New York State. The data has conclusively shown that there are major differences in the cause, clinical presentation and outcome of treatment in the two states. In Missouri, Lyme disease isn’t caused by the borrelia spirochete, the cases are milder and patients get better faster. In fact, Missouri Lyme shouldn’t be called Lyme disease at all. It’s not the same disease.
Your MOST MEMORABLE CASE: There are four cases that come to mind. In 1980, I saw my first AIDS patient; in 1981, my first Lyme case; in 1995, my first ehrlichiosis case and last year, the first culture-proven case of avian influenza in humans. It was serendipity that I was involved at the beginning of all these infectious diseases.
any hobbies? I’m a big Yankees fan. And I love exotic foods—Afghanistani, Thai, Burmese, Ethiopian. I live in New York City and nearly everything I could want to eat is within three blocks of me—and they deliver, too. I also like visiting my family and trying to stump friends and family with trivia questions. Also, I
YOUR IDOL: Any individual who comes up with an original idea of consequence is my idol.
BEST ADVICE FOR PATIENTS: Seek out healthcare providers who base their diagnosis and treatment on scientifically validated information rather than anecdotes.
Elizabeth Phillips, MD
“Take time out for yourself and your soul.”
SPECIAL FOCUS: I am boarded in internal medicine, hematology and oncology, but breast cancer is my specialty. I go to as many breast cancer meetings and conferences as I possibly can.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS SPECIALTY?
I used to be a leukemia fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering during my training and saw such dramatic changes in our patients, going from near death back to health again. Fortunately leukemia is a rare disease. So eventually I found myself treating more breast cancer since breast cancer is much more common. Of course it is wrenching, emotionally challenging work but ultimately rewarding.
WHAT IS THE MOST EXCITING NEW RESEARCH IN YOUR FIELD?: There are an awful lot of studies being done with therapeutic and adjuvant (preventative) medicine, and we’ve found another class of drugs that uses hormones to manipulate breast cancer cells that may be more effective than tamoxifen in certain people. It’s an evolving field that we hope will help reduce the incidence and recurrence of breast cancer. Some new research shows that monoclonal antibodies are effective in treating recurrences of cancer in certain patients. We’ve also found that changing the scheduling of chemotherapy, giving it more frequently, helps prevent more recurrences.
There has been new research on gene profiling; identifying who is at most risk of recurrence and treating them before they get cancer. This is still experimental.
MOST MEMORABLE CASE: I’ve seen so many challenging cases, I’d rather focus on personalities. There was a journalist I took care of for 15 years, a friend, who balanced the stress of her malignancies while leading a full life. I admired her so much; how she lived her life was an inspiration
any hobbies? I have a family with three children, so just running the household keeps me busy. I love to travel and explore new parts of the world, and I am planning a long anticipated trip to India. I also find that family reunions are a good way to recharge my batteries.
YOUR IDOL: One person I highly respect is the Dali Lama. He has been a unifying force in a divided world, stressing the common needs of people rather than divisiveness. He has suffered a lot of hardship in his life and is still not bitter.
BEST ADVICE FOR PATIENTS: One thing I have learned from my work is to appreciate acquaintances, friends and family each day because none of us knows how long we will be here. You cannot focus strictly on your illness, but find a balance in life. Take time out for yourself and your soul.
Jesus Jaile-Marti, MD
“Babies are my patients.”
WHAT’S YOUR SPECIAL FOCUS: I take care of premature and sick newborns with a special interest in respiratory diseases. I also have a special interest in neonatal nutrition. I’ve been at White Plains Hospital Center for 10 years now, and the most fulfilling thing is seeing these kids I’ve helped grow up—I get stopped in supermarkets, on the street, all the time.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS SPECIALTY? I love small things—miniatures, small cars—it’s part of my makeup. When I started medical school, I thought of being an obstetrician, but while I was doing my internship, I found I was more interested in the care of a baby after it was born. I spent time with some great gentlemen who exposed me to the fantastic world of neonatology. These babies are so frail, and I can make such a difference in their lives.
WHAT IS THE MOST EXCITING NEW RESEARCH IN YOUR FIELD? We are continually increasing the survival rate of even the tiniest of babies. We have babies only 23 weeks old, in the low one-pound range, surviving. We are saving babies who are being completely sustained by technology. But the major goal of neonatology is to go beyond survival to intact, healthy survival.
YOUR MOST MEMORABLE CASE: There was this tiny little girl born at one-pound, four-ounces. In her first week of life, she had to go through three operations. We knew that every time she went into the operating room, the odds were that she wouldn’t make it back out. During her first week, I was at the reunion we have each year with our former patients and their families when I got word that her intestines had perforated, and she needed to go back to the OR. Her surgeon was at the party too, and we both ran up. Everyone at the reunion could identify with what was happening. There was a moment of silence when all 500 parents prayed for that little baby. She is now four years old, in preschool, eats everything in sight and is a regular terror.
any hobbies? I love sports, baseball specifically. I play when I can and coach Little League, and I spend a lot of time playing with my two boys. My two girls play softball but won’t let me play with them—they say it is a different game that I wouldn’t understand. I also love tinkering and restoring old cars. There is a 1967 Mustang sitting in my garage. It’s been there for 12 years. I’m meaning to get to it. I also like carpentry. I make ugly shelves, ugly chairs. My best friend is caulk. I just fill in where the wood
doesn’t quite meet. My wife is a good sport about it.
WHO IS YOUR IDOL? I have four: Martin Luther King Jr., Ronald Reagan, my wife and my mom, who is the number one person in my life. When we came here from Cuba, she was a single mother who didn’t speak the language. She got a job in a factory, earning $60 a day. Still she gave me every advantage, exposing me to the best this country had to offer.
YOUR BEST ADVICE FOR PATIENTS: Parents should consider where they are going to have their babies. You never know whether you’re going to need specialized care. Do your homework and know the full capabilities of the hospital you choose. Make sure that the best medical care is available for your baby.
Nancy Kirshenbaum, MD
“It is such a treat to see a healthy baby born.”
SPECIAL FOCUS: I specialize in high risk obstetrics, also known as maternal fetal medicine, and I work with women.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS SPECIALTY? I’ve always been interested in women’s health issues, concerned that women had well rounded and thoughtful care. It used to be that women who were older or who had certain illnesses were advised not to get pregnant. Now, with care from the outset, these women can have safe pregnancies and deliveries. Obstetrics is unique in that we have two patients: the woman, who we can see, measure and evaluate, and the developing person inside. I want to take care of both individuals in the best way.
WHAT IS THE MOST EXCITING NEW RESEARCH IN YOUR FIELD? Newer reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization have really helped women who could not get pregnant any other way. Ultrasound has developed over the last 10 years to the point where we can identify abnormalities earlier and thus better determine which babies may need surgery in utero. We now have 3-D and 4-D computer imaging, offering another whole perspective of the developing fetus.
Another exciting development is how much more astute we are getting about women’s health during menopause. Doctors used to look at menopause as an event in a woman’s life. Now we recognize that it’s an era, not an event. There is so much to learn about the best lifestyle and best ways to manage this transition using diet, nutrition and exercise rather than estrogen therapy.
MOST MEMORABLE CASE: My own pregnancies are the most memorable. The nicest thing about obstetrics is that every delivery is the best delivery. Of course, managing the pregnancy along the way is hard work, but it is such a treat to see a healthy baby born.
any hobbies? I love to read—fiction, nonfiction, everything. I love swimming and the outdoors and going to museums—the Met is my favorite. I also cook. I don’t have enough time to do everything, but I love it all.
YOUR IDOL: My father. He came from Poland to this country, and he did what he had to do to take care of his family. Now, approaching 90, he published his second book. English is his seventh language.
BEST ADVICE FOR PATIENTS: Do everything in your power to stay healthy and live life to the fullest. Never be intimidated or embarrassed to ask questions. Find a place and a doctor who makes you feel comfortable.
J. Robert Seebacher, MD
“I can take away pain.”
YOUR SPECIAL FOCUS: I replace hips and knees, mostly in elderly patients. In the past six years, I’ve done about 1,000 hip and knee replacements.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS SPECIALTY: Even as a kid, I envisioned being a doctor, but choosing this specialty was a very gradual directional change. Initially, I liked pediatric cardiac surgery, but it was so sad when kids died. I discovered that with orthopedics, there was tremendous potential for gratification. It doesn’t matter if you come to me young, old, fat or thin. I can take away pain, restore ability to walk. Everyone is happy.
WHAT ARE THE MOST EXCITING DEVELOPMENTS IN YOUR FIELD: The technology is constantly improving, making it safer for higher risk patients to survive surgery. When we operate on very fat people, wounds don’t seal, increasing the risk of infection. We can now make a natural tissue sealant using the patient’s own blood—we fire a spray, somewhat like crazy glue, into the wound, sealing it so it doesn’t drain. There are also new machines to salvage, wash, filter and return blood to a patient after surgery, which means you can replace both knees, and, by the next morning, the patient will have lots of vigor.
We also have a better understanding of what it takes to have a longer lasting implant as well as a better understanding of causes and types of arthritis and ways to treat it without resorting to surgery. Ultimately, we want to reduce the need for knee replacement.
YOUR MOST MEMORABLE CASE: I had a patient whose earlier hip replacement had gone terribly awry. The plastic liner had popped out and the metal ball inside the liner had pushed up, ate through the metal shell and ground its way into his pelvis. When I opened the fascia—the deep layer that covers the muscles—everything was black. Metal filings were all through his tissue of his buttock and thigh. I had to use a super high-speed metal cutting tool and spent two and a half hours to get it all out. It was a great result for the patient and a career moment for me.
any hobbies? I’m a major gardener with a greenhouse and rustic, picturesque gardens. I have designed shade gardens with hostas, astilbe, 3,000 impatience, trumpet vines and wisteria all around my house—with different color schemes blooming all the time.
YOUR IDOL: When I was a resident at the Hospital for Special Surgery, the chief of orthopedics was Dr. Phillip Wilson Jr. He was diligent to the extreme. The day before surgery, he would draw lines all over the X-rays, making a blueprint for surgery. Now, I do the same thing the day before surgery.
BEST ADVICE FOR PATIENTS: Don’t ignore arthritis symptoms because you are afraid of surgery. When it starts to hurt, see a doctor and make sure the doctor is committed to helping you avoid surgery
Mary Versfelt, MD