A national survey lists the very best physicians in Memphis.
Photographs by Justin Fox Burks
Just what the doctor ordered. Every great city demands great doctors. Although adequate funding and state-of-the-art facilities play an important role in developing viable medical care, it is the ingenuity and dedication of great medical minds that truly raise the bar. In light of this, we present a list of the top doctors in Memphis. The following physicians have dedicated their life's work to medical research and/or treatment, and they offer their services to patients all over the greater Memphis area.
The list provides information on a wide range of specialists, from gastroenterologists to thoracic surgeons. We hope it will not only help our readers find the very best physicians in town, but also give Memphians an idea of the caliber of medical research that puts Memphis on the map.
To compile this list, we contacted the New York-based research group Castle Connolly Medical*, which annually conducts national surveys of the best doctors in America. Their physician-led team of researchers follows a rigorous screening process to select the best doctors on both the regional and national levels.
Our list is arranged alphabetically by specialty. After that, we provide the doctors' names, their hospital affiliation, the name and address of their group or clinic, their phone number, and their areas of expertise.
Remember that choosing a physician is an important, and very personal, decision. If you are happy with the care you are receiving from your doctor, there is no reason to change physicians. But if you are searching for a new doctor, or perhaps need access to a specialist, this list can be your guide to some of the most qualified physicians in the Memphis area.
* Castle Connolly Medical Ltd. is a health-care research and information company founded in 1991 by a former medical college board chairman and president to help guide consumers to America's top doctors and top hospitals. Castle Connolly's established survey and research process, under the direction of an MD, involves tens of thousands of top doctors and the medical leadership of leading hospitals.
Like many medical professionals, Dr. Robert Wake always knew he wanted to be a doctor, but he didn't always know he wanted to be a urologist. Then he got to medical school at the UT Health Science Center here in Memphis and saw how much fun the future urologists were having. Sometimes, Wake says, people even got the wrong impression of them, assuming they were having too much fun and not working hard. But according to
Wake, the students who go into urology are typically at the top of their class. "They work themselves to death, they just have fun doing it."
It was also the versatility of the field that drew Wake in. "Urology had everything," he says. "It was just the perfect fit." In addition to sitting down and talking to patients about different medicines, urology offers an endoscopic component, a laparoscopic component, and an opportunity to practice major open surgery. And as the chair of the Urology Department at UT Health Science Center, Wake adds even more versatility to his profession, by acting as a professor and mentor as well as a clinical physician.
His primary efforts are focused in clinical research and prostate cancer, which he describes as the most fulfilling part of his career. "It's very rewarding to me to treat prostate cancer and handle any of the complications that might occur," says Wake. "Taking people that have had complications, whether they're our patients or they've been referred in, and who feel like there's no hope for them — fixing their problems after surgery, that's what makes the job so rewarding."
But his specialization isn't without its pitfalls. Wake currently serves on the early detection for prostate cancer panel at the National Conference of Cancer Network. There, thousands of panels meet to discuss protocols for the detection and treatment of various cancers. "You've got urologists, medical oncologists, epidemiologists, statisticians, and they're all trying to make up rules, come out with guidelines on how you screen for prostate cancer," says Wake. Complicating matters is the increasing emphasis on reducing health-care expenditures; case in point, the American Cancer Society just recently changed its stance on prostate cancer screenings towards less aggressive screening.
"When a big name like the American Cancer Society says something, people think it's gospel," Wake says. "The same thing happened with mammography, but the patient outcry from the female population was so great that next thing you know the American Cancer Society is backing off."
Wake agrees that screening is expensive, but adds, "Saving lives costs money. I could tell you that you'll save a lot of money by not sending your kid to college, but that's not necessarily the right thing to do."
Striking the right balance between early detection and overtreatment is key to making sure the right people get care without unnecessary spending. Wake estimates that only about 3 percent of men die of prostate cancer, but almost 1 in 4 men develops the disease. "Right now we don't have a crystal ball and we might never have that," says Wake of determining who needs treatment. "We just need to continue to get better clinical evaluations and talk to the patients and figure out what they need. And if you have to screen 1,400 people, biopsy 48, to save one life I say, 'Heck, yeah. Let's do that.'"
— Hannah Sayle
If you'd like to know how to make a better and healthier Memphis, look no further than Dr. James E. Bailey. A practicing internist, professor, and researcher for the UT Health Science Center, Bailey's many titles fall under the umbrella of a conviction to save lives in ways both small and large. As a young medical student, Bailey was drawn to primary care by the idea of taking care of the whole patient — making people healthier through simple changes in their daily lives.
He prefers practical applications — such as urging people to quit smoking — as opposed to extensive treatments and surgeries. He helped found the Healthy Memphis Common Table, a health and health-care improvement collaborative that allows Memphians the opportunity to rate and compare physicians, get information on healthier living, browse community events geared toward health, and provide a myriad of other helpful tools.
"It's doing the things we know are evidence-based, like treating hypertension. We've found out that, for people with coronary disease, which is the biggest killer of Americans, the most important thing to prevent coronary death isn't heart surgery, stents, or cholesterol drugs so much; it's treating blood pressure. Making sure that if you've got coronary disease you're on an aspirin a day," he says.
Bailey is also an advocate for coordination of care, a role that often falls upon the family practice doctor. Avoidable medical mistakes are still a leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine. Considering the amount of time most people spend under medical care, that prospect is terrifying, especially to Bailey. He aims to consistently avoid such mistakes through quality improvement and health systems research.
"A lot of the goal of my research and teaching outside of the clinic I do with our students is how to make our health systems more effective in making us healthy and keeping us healthy. Particularly, keeping us out of the hospital. Unfortunately, that's where we spend a large part of our health-care dollars. We know that with good primary care, many of those hospitalizations and ICU days are completely preventable," he says.
The question he poses is how to reliably deliver proven health care to every patient. The answer he looks to is health information technology. "Our health-care system has become incredibly complex and yet we've been slow to use computers. I think we need inter-operative electronic health records that are communicable with other health systems," he says. As a major participant in the Mid-South eHealth Alliance, one labor of his research is determining the definitive impact of such a system. MSEHA is a nonprofit initiative involving Shelby County hospitals and clinics, as well as Baptist Memorial Hospital – Tipton. "What we now can do that we could never do before is, from our clinic, look up and get records from any of the hospitals in town. If doctors in the emergency room use that system and look for records on patients, they are less likely to admit patients to the hospital, because they find out they've already been worked up for this, and they're less likely to get duplicate tests, like head CTs. That ends up being a big deal, because there are patients who've had dozens of CT scans. When we think that each CT scan is like being 30 miles from ground zero at Hiroshima, that's a lot of radiation. Here's a case where we can save money and dramatically improve quality.
"To me," Bailey concludes, "that's the kind of innovation we need most."
— Ashley Johnston
When he joined the medical staff of The West Clinic in 1987, the life span of patients with certain types of cancer — lung, breast, and colon — was measured more in months than in years. But today, says Dr. Lee Schwartzberg, "we've made all three of those cancers chronic diseases so that patients can live much longer, some a decade or more." More importantly, he adds, "I have many women who've had metastatic breast cancer who are not only alive but feeling well and going about their normal business years later."
The New York City native, who is medical director of West Clinic, spent the early part of his career focusing on hematological malignancies such as leukemia and lymphoma. While heading Baptist Hospital's stem-cell transplant unit in the 1990s, he helped develop peripheral blood stem-cell transplants to be used in lieu of the more-invasive bone-marrow transplants. "We also did a lot of work on breast cancers using stem cells," adds Schwartzberg, "but it helped only a small fraction of patients and was more toxic than the newer treatments."
Since then, doctors have learned about the biology of breast cancers and can divide them into different groups, each of which may respond to certain medicines. One drug is part of a nationwide study of 420 women, and The West Clinic has the highest number of patients participating in that trial. The drug, used in conjunction with chemotherapy, is designed to help women with "hormone receptor negative" malignancies that don't respond to more traditional treatments. "So far the clinical trials are very promising," says Schwartzberg. "We'll have final results in six months to a year."
In the 25 years since Schwartzberg finished his fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, he has seen the breast cancer death rate drop by almost 2 percent each year, and, with The West Clinic, has witnessed remarkable advances in drug research. "We participated in clinical trials for eight of the last 10 cancer drugs approved by the FDA," says Schwartzberg. "To know that a new generation of patients will be helped — that never gets old," he says.
Still, he realizes that patients suffer and die every day from some form of cancer. "We get close to these individuals over time; they become like family," says Schwartzberg, and he tells of a man who lived with lymphoma for 10 years. At first, the disease was slow-growing and responded to treatments — until a more aggressive form took over. "The cancer cells get more resistant to the drugs," the doctor explains. "It's like pulling out crab grass, it grows back harder." A difficult part of his job is "sympathizing with families, but not taking every person's death from cancer as a failure. To me it's a success if we helped them live a longer life and have better quality for however long it was."
Brightening his days are messages from former patients, like the one he received from a young man he helped cure of testicular cancer some 15 years ago. "He'd worried about having children after chemo," says Schwartzberg, "but there it was — a picture of him, his wife, and two kids. He thanked me for helping him. It was incredibly gratifying to know the impact you can have."
Married with two grown children working in health care, Schwartzberg also heads the Accelerated Community Oncology Research Network (ACORN) to help "improve clinical research in oncology practices around the country." In his rare spare moments, he plays keyboards for The Oncotones — a rock band made up of physicians and pharmaceutical reps. Adds Schwartzberg with a smile: "We also have a couple of pros to make us sound good together."
As director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, Dr. Robert Schoumacher often treats patients too young to tell him they have trouble sleeping — and are often unaware of it. "Adults usually know when they can't sleep, or their spouse does," says Schoumacher. "With infants, the symptoms are often more subtle." Signs of a pediatric sleep disorder include loud or persistent snoring, or maybe the baby just doesn't act like other children. "He or she may fall asleep every time you turn around, or seems crankier. Or he acts tired all day long, every day." Another symptom: poor grades in school, because the child is just too tired to learn.
Schoumacher and his staff at the Sleep Disorders Center — the only accredited pediatric center in the Mid-South — treat more than 800 patients a year for narcolepsy, insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, nightmares, and other problems. During an overnight stay, the patient's breathing, heart rate, brainwaves, and other functions are carefully monitored.
"With adults, many sleep problems are treated with medications, therapy, and surgery," says Schoumacher, who co-founded the center at Le Bonheur in 1993 after a stint on the medical faculty at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "With children, we have discovered that obstructive sleep apnea — meaning that something is blocking their airway — can often be cured by a tonsillectomy."
Sleep apnea is a major concern because it not only deprives the brain of oxygen, but the constant waking during the night — when the patient snores or chokes — deprives the brain of the rest it needs. "And that has bad consequences. Everybody is functioning on a lower level than they could — socially, emotionally, and intellectually."
Sometimes, the cure for a sleep disorder is simple: The patient changes his schedule so that he gets more sleep every night.
"The most common sleep disorder is insufficient sleep. The whole country — the entire world — is operating on less sleep than they should," says Schoumacher. "This is me on my soapbox, but a big part of my job is to advise people how much sleep they need, and to encourage them to make time for that in their lives."
For adults, that means at least eight hours a night; nine hours for teens. For babies, it can be as much as 18 hours every day.
Schoumacher says that his specialty is still cloaked in a basic mystery: Why?
"There is a lot we still don't understand about sleep. Why do we spend a third of our lives vulnerable and nonproductive? Why is it so important to our survival that it even persists across all species?"
But there's no question that a good night's rest is vitally important. "Every organ of the body is affected by sleep," he says. "For that reason, It's the perfect multidisciplinary specialty, because no matter what field you are in — neurology, rheumatology, whatever it may be — if you can't restore a patient's ability to sleep, you can't restore them to good health."
— Michael Finger
As a young boy in Hong Kong, Ching-Hon Pui saw a film (he's forgotten the title) about a family exposed to nuclear radiation. When a boy in the tale eventually succumbed to leukemia, Pui was inspired for life, and determined to fight the dreaded cancer. Upon earning his medical degree at National Taiwan University, Pui moved to America to train as a pediatrician. After a year in St. Louis, he was hired by St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Recently honored with Castle Connolly's 2010 Physician of the Year Award for Clinical Excellence, Pui has been an integral player in St. Jude's renowned efforts. "When I first got here [in 1977]," says Pui, "the five-year survival rate for acute lymphoblastic leukemia was around 50 percent. It's now over 90 percent. Children with leukemia are precocious; they're mature, considerate, resilient."
Pui explains that there has been no discovery of a miracle drug, but rather a revolution in the way drugs first administered in the 1960s are given today. "We're really saving lives," he emphasizes. "We know how to combine drugs, which drugs to use at which phase, and the proper dosages. This is the beauty of total-therapy studies."
Beyond the treatment of disease, Pui stresses how much supportive care has improved over the course of his career. "We have better antibiotics, so we can push medicine to the maximum tolerable dosage without the risk of losing a patient to infection. And, of course, transfusion medicine is much better." Pui recalls a time when patients were prone to vomiting before, during, and after treatment. Medicine that reduces, even eliminates, vomiting takes a patient a step closer to a normal, healthy life.
"We work as a team," says Pui. "We have a team for each kind of cancer." As many as 100 people — physicians, nurses, support staff — are in place for any given treatment. Each member of the team knows his or her role, leaving little to chance or doubt when life-saving decisions must be made. In his role now as chair of St. Jude's Department of Oncology, Pui coordinates his team with the pride of a Hall of Fame coach. "No time is wasted," he says. "As soon as a patient arrives, our treatment begins. We have treated approximately 500 consecutive newly diagnosed acute lymphoblastic leukemia patients over the past eight years, and lost only one as a result of complications from remission induction therapy."
Pui admits that losing a young patient is as difficult today as it was 30 years ago. But the fact that it happens so rarely now only reinforces the career decision made after that inspirational movie half a world away. "It would be hard to be an adult oncologist," says Pui, "because the mortality rate is so high. They have to deal with loss all the time. I don't think I'd survive that job."
When asked what inspires him now, Pui doesn't hesitate in turning the survival-rate figure on its head. "Losing 10 percent is not acceptable," he says. "That's our biggest challenge. We also want patients to survive with a normal quality of life." Pui notes the elimination of cranial radiation exposure as an enormous gain toward this end. "We took a major step 10 years ago, and we proved this could be done. Even when children were cured [with cranial radiation], their life span was 10 years shorter than the normal population. They had a lifelong risk of developing a second cancer. We may have cured the leukemia, but we didn't cure the patient."
With family still in Hong Kong, Pui admits he misses his hometown, but that Memphis has grown on him, and for an obvious reason. "I'm in Memphis because of St. Jude."
— Frank Murtaugh
Memphis' Top Doctors
ALLERGY & IMMUNOLOGY
CHILD & ADOLESCENT PSYCHIATRY
ENDOCRINOLOGY, DIABETES & METABOLISM
OBSTETRICS & GYNECOLOGY
Castle Connolly's physician-led team of researchers follows a rigorous screening process to select top doctors on both the national and regional levels. Using mail and telephone surveys, and electronic ballots, they ask physicians and the medical leadership of leading hospitals to identify highly skilled, exceptional doctors. Careful screening of doctors' educational and professional experience is essential before final selection is made among those physicians most highly regarded by their peers.
The result? We identify the top doctors in America and provide you, the consumer, with detailed information about their education, training, and special expertise in our paperback guides, national and regional magazine "Top Doctors" features, and online directories.
Doctors do not and cannot pay to be selected and profiled as Castle Connolly Top Doctors.
Physicians selected for inclusion in this magazine's "Top Doctors" feature may also appear as Regional Top Doctors online at www.castleconnolly.com, or in one of Castle Connolly's Top Doctors guides, such as America's Top Doctors® or America's Top Doctors® for Cancer.