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Best Doctors of Augusta 2010

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One of the most precious and valuable resources available to Augusta-area residents, both current and those looking to relocate here, is the impressive number of excellent physicians and world-class medical facilities. With more than six nationally-acclaimed hospitals, including an academic medical center, nationally-renowned burn center, major Army medical center and Veterans Administration hospital, there is no dearth of options when it comes to choosing the best healthcare provider for you and your family.

To help you with your decision, Augusta Magazine publishes a bi-annual list of the best doctors in the CSRA as excerpted from the database of Best Doctors Inc., a company founded in 1989 by doctors affiliated with the Harvard University School of Medicine. The international database is comprised of 50,000 top medical specialists in more than 400 specialties chosen by their own peers.

The selection process is based on a simple premise. Researchers from Best Doctors poll doctors in a comprehensive list of specialties and ask them one question: “If you or a loved one needed a doctor in your specialty, to whom would you refer them?” They start by asking department heads at major teaching hospitals to rate specialists outside their own facilities. These recommendations start the process of peer review.

With person-to-person telephone interviews, and proprietary polling and balloting software, Best Doctors collects up to 2.5 million evaluations annually. Only five percent of the doctors in the country are actually selected to become one of the Best Doctors.

The other important factor to this survey is that Best Doctors is totally independent. Doctors do not pay to be included in the database and they are not paid to participate in the survey. The judgement of their peers is the determining factor.

So what follows is a listing of those doctors in the database from the CSRA. We hope the list will help you prepare to make healthcare choices for yourself and your family. For more information about Best Doctors visit www.bestdoctors.com.

“Best Doctors,” “The Best Doctors in America” and the Best Doctors logo are registered trademarks of Best Doctors Inc. and are used under license.


Dr. Miriam Atkins
Medical Oncology
Augusta Oncology


Dr. Miriam Atkins came to Augusta 10 years ago, by way of Lanham, Md., her birthplace, Norfolk and Hampton, Va., where she attended college and medical school, respectively, and eight years in the military that included a one-year internship in San Francisco and seven years in San Antonio.

Her interest in science began in childhood and her mother encouraged her to pursue medicine. She practiced internal medicine while in the Army and during rotations discovered an affinity for cancer patients.

Dr. Atkins chose medical oncology as her specialty and was the fourth doctor to join Augusta Oncology Associates. In the past decade, the practice has grown to two locations and seven physicians.

Cancer treatment has also grown since Dr. Atkins entered the field. “We have so many new drugs,” she says. “Most of my patients come here, get their treatment and go back to work. They maintain a normal lifestyle. We do 95 percent of oncology treatment on an outpatient basis. Chemotherapy, radiology, IVs, X-rays, labs—we do everything in the office.”

One of the challenges of oncology is that each cancer is different. “Drugs that treat breast cancer don’t treat colon cancer,” she says. “We’re also seeing people who have more than one cancer, although we don’t know why. It could be because they’re living longer and get another cancer. Also some cancers are related; for example, breast and uterine cancers can run together. However, we are headed toward better treatment in that many people are living with cancer, and we also have drugs that allow us to treat older patients.”

Another challenge is the cost of treatment. “The drugs are very expensive, $5000 a month, and we’re the face of this, so people think that physicians are the ones running up the cost,” she says. “But we can’t control the cost of the drugs. People don’t have good insurance, they’re losing their jobs and they can’t put in $100 and take out $10,000. In oncology we have to buy the drugs before we give them to the patients. We can’t donate the drugs or give out samples of chemotherapy.”

The reward, she says, is the patients themselves, “because they are so appreciative of anything we can do to make their lives better.”
Outside of the office, Dr. Atkins spends time with her parents and teenage daughter, enjoys the symphony, ballet and movies, and gives talks at churches and in the community.

“Patients should be involved and informed,” she says. “They should read about their disease, play an active role in their treatment and ask questions. Oncology is a whole different language and medicine is customer service. As the patient, you have to leave the office feeling satisfied and understanding what I said.”
 


Dr. Ron Eaker
Obstetrics and Gynecology
Women’s Health of Augusta


Dr. Ron Eaker clearly remembers when medicine became his passion. “I won an essay contest in middle school, and when asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I told the reporter I wanted to be a thoracic surgeon and then I had to spell it for him,” he says. “I was enthralled by the story of Dr. Christiaan Barnard and the first human heart transplant, and I thought I wanted to do the same. Then I discovered that I would have to spend 15 years in training and I started to look at other options.

“I didn’t decide on obstetrics until my third year of medical school. It was as much an emotional decision as a cognitive one, hatched when I delivered my first baby. I still remember the night on call and having the resident tell me to gown up and ‘catch’ the next one. Hundreds, maybe thousands of deliveries later, it’s still a privilege to be allowed to be a part of such a sacred event.”

Dr. Eaker was born and raised in East Tennessee, attended college in Knoxville and medical school at the University of Tennessee Center for the Health Sciences in Memphis. He arrived in Augusta in 1984 to do his ob-gyn residency at MCG and went directly from there to Women’s Health of Augusta, where he has practiced holistically and compassionately for 22 years. “The major challenge in our specialty is to embrace high tech, but remain high touch,” he says. “By that, I mean staying on the cutting edge of new and exciting surgical and imaging techniques, but never losing sight of the individuality and needs of the person whom you are treating. We are sunk as a specialty if we only embrace the science and forget the soul.” 

Outside the office, faith and family are his priorities. “My wife, Susan, and my daughters, Katie and Caroline, are my source of strength and greatest joys,” he says. “Their love is nourishing and provides a balance in an otherwise hectic life.” He attends Trinity on the Hill Methodist Church, is involved in teaching and medical missions, has authored three books, contributes a monthly column to Augusta Family magazine, has completed 18 marathons and publishes an educational and entertaining blog (fatproofyourfamily.blogspot.com).

The greatest reward of being an ob-gyn, he says, “is to have the gratitude of a woman telling me I made a difference in her life. Anybody can deliver a baby, and there are thousands of surgeons out there, but if I have a patient that believes that I was the right person for her at the right time, I feel fulfilled. If I can one day have both God and a patient say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant,’ then I believe I have done what the good Lord put me here to do.”
 


Dr. Charlie Green
Internal Medicine
Geriatric Medicine
Critical Care Medicine
Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center


Dr. Charlie Green was born in Waynesboro, Ga., and attended Burke County High School. He graduated from UGA, and then MCG in 1974, and did his residency in internal medicine at the University of Texas in Dallas. There, he met his wife, who was doing her residency in ophthalmology. They moved to Augusta in 1977 and set up private practices. Two years ago, Dr. Green the ophthalmologist, joined a practice downtown, while Dr. Charlie Green joined the primary care clinic at the uptown Veteran’s Administration Hospital.

“I really enjoy the VA because I have always been interested in military history and I get to treat a wonderful group of people who are very appreciative of the care they get,” he says. “It’s an honor to care for them because they are our heroes. I respect them and I want to make their lives better. I’m a vet too; so it’s a natural fit.”

Dr. Green’s grandfather and father served in World War I and World War II, respectively. Dr. Green served in the Gulf War and his only son did two tours in Iraq as a Black Hawk pilot. “I can tell you that it’s easier to go to war than to send your son to war,” he says.

His patients range from today’s veterans to those who fought at Pearl Harbor. The challenge is the complexity of medical issues, he says. “You have to find exactly what’s wrong in multiple areas and solve problems as best you can.” The reward is “seeing patients do better and knowing that you helped improve their quality of life.”

Caring for veterans means taking into consideration not only physical injuries but also mental and emotional trauma, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. “These issues are directly related to their service,” says Dr. Green. “They bear physical and emotional scars, and both have to be addressed. The VA here has done an excellent job with specific physicians and programs for those vets.” There are also homeless veterans in need of assistance. “We have a multi-team approach that mobilizes quickly to care for them too,” he says.

Dr. and Dr. Green have a son, daughter and grandchildren in Augusta. Their son, who is just out of the Army, begins dental school in the fall.

Working at the VA, he says, allows him to remain in practice much longer, “because I love my job and I enjoy caring for these vets who made such sacrifices. I want to honor and respect them and I get to do that every day.”
 


Dr. Carmel Joseph
Pulmonary Medicine
Acute Care Consultants


Dr. Carmel Joseph grew up in East Africa, India and the United States and discovered early on that he had a great interest in human anatomy and physiology, as well as a desire to help others. A career in medicine would allow him to combine the two.

He attended St. John’s Medical College in Bangalore, India, where he saw first-hand the dire poverty and lack of specialists and critical care. He did his residency in internal medicine at North Shore University Hospital and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center at Cornell University in New York, and completed his fellowships in pulmonary/critical care at North Shore and Cornell, and critical care/sleep training at North Shore and NYU School of Medicine.

Dr. Joseph met his wife, a Brooklyn native and asthma and allergy specialist, while they were both in medical school in India. They married, relocated to New York for their fellowships and residencies, and moved south—by this time with their two sons. They eventually joined Dr. Joseph’s younger brother, Allen, in Augusta, where he practices obstetrics and gynecology.

Dr. Joseph specializes in pulmonary critical care and sleep medicine. Advances in diagnostics and medications have made it possible to emphasize patient-centered care that involves the entire family. “Unfortunately, many cities are economically unable to sustain the growth of that technology,” he says. “We see areas in medicine that need a lot of improvements as people live longer and not all hospitals provide those services. It is also important that patients who don’t have healthcare can gain access to it one way or another, especially those who don’t have insurance or access to outpatient care. Luckily, Augusta has good hospitals, but some areas don’t have the facilities, and people have to travel to see a primary care doctor here.”

Dr. Joseph cites the importance of early diagnosis and treatment. “Hospitals and physicians need that infrastructure and support from the federal government in order to maintain the standard of care,” he says. “Otherwise, a patient will have no access to a specialist.”

Working in critical care and intensive care units is very personal for Dr. Joseph. “When you watch someone struggling for life, it’s very hard to leave that at the end of the day,” he says. “The rewards come when you help that critically ill patient get better, improve their quality of life, see the family happy and know that you have been able to use some of your talents to help them be able to spend more time with their loved ones. That is huge. That’s the biggest reward.”
 


Dr. Anand Jillella
Medical Oncology and Hematology
Medical College of Georgia


If Dr. Anand Jillella hadn’t sensed early on that medicine was his calling, he would have certainly gotten the message. “From the time I was a child, everyone told me that I should be a doctor,” he says. “Even in school plays, I always played the doctor.”

He attended the Government Medical College in Kurnool, India, did his internship and residency at MCG and his fellowship at Yale. In 1996, he joined MCG as an assistant professor, completed training in bone marrow transplantation at Johns Hopkins Oncology in 1999 and became director of the bone marrow/stem cell transplant program at MCG in 2000. He is now a professor of medicine at MCG and chief of the division of hematology/oncology and bone marrow transplantation.

Dr. Jillella felt drawn to oncology because it allows him to combine his love for research and his desire to help patients. “I felt that if I trained to be a cancer specialist, seeing how research was exploding, I could offer so much more to my patients,” he says.

Therapies and medications have improved tremendously, he says. “We have made a lot of headway in treating cancer, and now 50 percent of cancers are curable by surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of those things. However, we still don’t have all the answers, we don’t understand tumors very well, and the therapies aren’t always effective enough.”

Treating cancer patients is a “journey,” he says. “You develop relationships with your patients and their families, and that is the most gratifying part of the job. It’s what brings you to work every day.”

One of the challenges, he says, is finding coping mechanisms because of the emotional involvement that comes with the profession. Dr. Jillella’s wife, Hannah, is a nurse. “She understands a lot of what I do,” he says. She is definitely my strength.” Family—the Jillellas have three teenagers at home—helps him through.

Still, he says, “Failure is an integral part of being a cancer specialist. We know that in certain circumstances, the patient’s therapy is not going to work. We have to find mechanisms to help us cope, someone to talk to who will listen to us and help us get through. I talk to some of my senior nurses. We have programs in place at MCG for that, where trainees talk with senior doctors. It’s tough. A lot of patients with advanced cancer know that the inevitable is coming and they trust you to have the sophistication and training to make the inevitable as tolerable as possible.”
 


Dr. Bernard Maria
Pediatric Specialist/Neurology, General
Medical College of Georgia


While MCG may be known as a teaching hospital, for pediatric neurologist Dr. Bernard Maria, the greatest instructors are his young patients. “Children have a lot to teach us,” he says.

Growing up in Canada, Dr. Maria considered dentistry and business, but after “shadowing” a girlfriend’s heart surgeon father for the summer, “The children in the hospital had me at hello,” he says. “I was also intrigued by neurology. I went to medical school devoted to taking care of children.”

He attended Universite de Sherbrooke in Quebec, did his internship at Montréal Children’s Hospital, his residency at Johns Hopkins and fellowship at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Today, he chairs MCG’s Department of Pediatrics and is the medical director of the Children’s Medical Center.

While at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Maria founded the first pediatric brain tumor unit. In Texas, he did his specialty training to become a neuro-oncologist. “Brain tumors are the leading cause of disease-related death in children,” he says.

Dr. Maria’s career is one of firsts, from the unit at Johns Hopkins to becoming the first department chair at MCG to having a blog: www.berniesblogforkids.com. “I believe it humanizes my position and gives me a way to communicate,” he says.

Treatment has changed since Dr. Maria began practicing pediatric neurology in 1986 and pediatric neuro-oncology in 1988. “We used to remove the tumor and then use chemotherapy and radiation,” he says. “Now we have targeted molecular therapy to develop a treatment plan to use on cancer cells. It’s a much more finely-honed science that is customized and precise to the patient’s needs.”

Dr. Maria credits Barbara, his wife of 26 years, and their 16-year-old son as his support system outside of the office. “My wife and son are always immersed in what I do and they have empathy for children who don’t make it or who end up with a disability,” he says. “They help me cope.”

The reward of being a physician, he says, is that “it is such a wonderful privilege to be able to help people.” The key to being the best possible physician, he says, is two-fold. “The most important things when taking care of children are listening to them, because they have wisdom, dignity, beauty and simplicity; and to absolutely leave no stone unturned for a family. Families come to us with a complex array of challenges. They’re looking for what happens next and you have to be among those moving the field forward. You’re a better doctor by being among those contributing to the discovery.”
 


Dr. Kraig Wangsnes
Cardiovascular Disease
Cardiovascular Associates of  Augusta


Dr. Kraig Wangsnes’s fascination with human physiology began when he was 6 years old. “My mother was a nurse and that helped influence my decision to pursue medicine,” he says. “That desire has persisted ever since.”

He grew up in Minnesota and did his residency at the University of Minnesota Mayo Graduate School of Medicine. During the second year of his fellowship in California, he decided to specialize in cardiovascular disease.

His move to Augusta came in a roundabout way. “I had never been to Georgia,” he says, “but one day I was reading a medical journal article about MCG and I thought, ‘Where is that?’ I looked on the map and saw it was the place that had the Masters Tournament.”

He was visiting friends in Dallas who set him up on a blind date with a tall, blonde model from New York. “I loved the Mayo Clinic,” he says, “but my friends introduced me to a girl from Louisville, Ga. When I came to visit her, I flew into Bush Field Airport and I liked it.” Kraig and Marilyn Wangsnes got married 17 years ago, lived in Dallas, and moved to Augusta in 1994. He entered private practice at Cardiovascular Associates of Augusta and, he says, “I’m still here with the same guys.”

When Dr. Wangsnes began practicing cardiology in Augusta, “All we had was balloon angioplasty and rudimentary stents,” he says. “The technological advances we make are in tiny steps, but over 10 years they have been monumental. There are always new medicines and the ability to help people always improves. I love cardiology and, as far as what I chose to do with my life, I’m happy every day.”

The Wangsneses are parents to two boys, ages 10 and 14. In addition to family time and athletics, Dr. Wangsnes is also an accomplished classical guitarist. He is a patron of the arts and has sponsored performances by classical guitarists in Augusta.

His work also brings him joy. The challenges come from the non-medical side, he says. “Doctors are not naturally trained to deal with the politics and business, which can distract you from trying to be the best you can be. Becoming a physician is an altruistic thing and every patient is a personal individual who comes into your space to be helped. You want to do your best so that they can meet their life’s potential. The rewards are the interaction, the personalities, what you see in your patients. Taking care of them gives you the reward.”

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Best Doctors®
These lists are excerpted from The Best Doctors in America® 2011-2012 database, which includes over 45,000 doctors in more than 40 medical specialties. Biennial research is currently in progress to determine selections for the 2013-2014 Best Doctors list. The Best Doctors in America® database is compiled and maintained by Best Doctors, Inc.  For more information, visit www.bestdoctors.com, or contact Best Doctors by telephone at 800-675-1199 or by e-mail at research@bestdoctors.com. Please note that lists of doctors are not available on the Best Doctors website.