Our 2011 Top Doctors

A physician-led research team identifies the desert’s 77 top doctors in 39 specialties



PROFILES BY MATTHEW LINK 
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ETHAN KAMINSKY

When looking for the right doctor, a recommendation from a trusted friend goes a long way. To that end, Palm Springs Life has partnered with Castle Connolly Medical Ltd., a physician-led research firm based in New York, to independently survey the Coachella Valley and reveal the crème de la crème.

How the firm makes such sensitive decisions — which often become your referrals — requires some explanation. Below, we answer frequently asked questions about the resulting list.

WHO PICKS THE DOCTORS?
In short, doctors nominate other outstanding doctors in a variety of clinical specialties. Castle Connolly’s medical research team vets the nominees based on stringent selection criteria.

Its physician-led study involves more than 1,300 board-certified physicians, including medical leadership of leading hospitals. Using mail and telephone surveys and electronic ballots, they ask physicians and the medical leadership of leading hospitals to identify highly skilled, exceptional doctors. The review includes, among other factors, scrutiny of medical education, training, hospital appointments, administrative posts, professional achievements, and malpractice and disciplinary history.

Physicians selected for inclusion in this Palm Springs Life feature may also be listed online at www.castleconnolly.com or in one of Castle Connolly’s guides, such as America’s Top Doctors or America’s Top Doctors for Cancer. The books are available online (www.castleconnolly.com), in bookstores, or by calling 800-399-3627.

WHO IS CASTLE CONNOLLY MEDICAL LTD.?
Castle Connolly is a healthcare research and information company founded in 1991 by a former medical college board chairman and president. The firm’s principals and its publications have been recognized by Good Morning America and 20/20 (ABC), 48 Hours (CBS), American Morning (CNN), and Fox News, as well as in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Boston Herald. Magazine coverage has included Fortune, Town & Country, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Money, New York, San Francisco Magazine, Chicago Magazine, Atlanta Magazine, and many others.

CAN DOCTORS PAY TO BE ON THE LIST?
No. Doctors do not and cannot pay to be selected or profiled.

MY DOCTOR WAS NOT SELECTED. SHOULD I BE CONCERNED?
Probably not. Castle Connolly does not claim to identify every excellent physician. The physicians identified are clearly among the best, but there are always other fine physicians not identified by Castle Connolly. That is why the firm’s books and websites describe a process whereby you can identify excellent physicians.

I’M A DOCTOR AND MY SPECIALTY DOES NOT APPEAR ON THE LIST. WHY NOT?
The specialties reflect those most commonly sought by readers in the Coachella Valley. In some specialties, few doctors practice in this region. For example, the Plastic Surgery category omits sub-specialties in the field, particularly dermatologic, ophthalmic, gynecological, and facial plastic surgery. In this particular instance, Castle Connolly operates America’s Cosmetic Doctors (www.americascosmeticdoctors.com). For additional information, please call Castle Connolly at 212-367-8400.

I’M A DOCTOR OR MEDICAL LEADER. HOW DO I NOMINATE DOCTORS?
Please call Castle Connolly at 212-367-8400 to request a print or electronic ballot.

HOW OFTEN DOES CASTLE CONNOLLY UPDATE ITS LIST?
The listings are updated annually. Additionally, as Castle Connolly researchers learn of changes to doctors’ information, they immediately update the doctors’ profiles.

2011 Top Doctors TV Show Presented by:  Desert Regional Medical Center

See All The 2011 Top Doctor Selections


Top Doctors 2011 TV Show
View Full 2011 Top Doc Show
Scott M. Aaronson, M.D. -
Rhinoplasty, facial rejuvenation
David W. Duffner, M.D.
Spinal surgery, joint replacement
Eric L. Freedman, M.D.
Upper extremity surgery
Steven Gundry, M.D.
Cardiac surgery (adult and pediatric)
Brian K. Herman, M.D.
Interventional radiology, neuroradiology
Neal S. Hermanowicz, M.D.
Parkinson’s disease, movement disorders
Ronald B. Himelman, M.D.
Invasive cardiology, pacemakers
Judy Jackson, M.D. -
Stereotactic radiosurgery, breast cancer
Elliott B. Lander, M.D.
Hormonal disorders
Suzanne M. Quardt, M.D. -
Plastic and reconstructive surgery
Ralph M. Steiger, M.D.
Pregnancy (high risk)
M. Georgeta Varga, M.D.
Parkinson’s disease, movement disorders

Dr. Scott AaronsonFEATURED PROFILES

DR. SCOTT AARONSON

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Plastic Surgeon
Desert Regional Medical Center

MEDICAL SCHOOL: University of Miami
INTERNSHIP: University of California, Irvine
RESIDENCY: University of California, Irvine; St. Joseph Hospital, Houston
BOARD CERTIFICATION: American Board of Plastic Surgery
PROFESSIONAL MEMBERSHIP: American Society of Plastic Surgeons

THE PATIENTS I WILL NEVER FORGET:
I went with a group of doctors to Honduras back in 1984 and ’85 to do cleft lip repair on children. The cleft lip is common in foreign countries, usually because of dietary problems, but it’s also genetic. The families may have driven a hundred miles or so just to get to us. The children were a few months old in most cases. We’d go back the next year to follow up with them and take photographs of how they had progressed. After we did the repair, the families were smiling and those children were extremely happy. That’s what’s plastic surgery is all about: changing people’s lives. And that’s why I went into it.

ARE THERE CERTAIN TYPES OF PEOPLE YOU WON’T TAKE AS PATIENTS?
A plastic surgery junkie would be someone who is having continual or multiple procedures. Some people psychologically are looking for other things — they’re looking for psychological support. They may have lost somebody in their family. In those cases, I tell them they need to have a rest and decide whether plastic surgery is the right thing. If they have unrealistic expectations or they’re depressed and they think plastic surgery is going to boost them up, they need a waiting period. Once you’ve identified warning signs in patients, you need to be careful.

WHAT RECENT CHANGES HAVE YOU SEEN IN YOUR FIELD?
Plastic surgeons, including myself, have stopped taking insurance for a lot of procedures because the insurance companies have not stepped up to the plate and paid what was considered reasonable for certain types of procedures. Because of that, a lot of plastic surgeons have elected to just stop taking insurance and Medicare. Now the trend is  concierge service, where you pay the physician and the insurance doesn’t play a part of it. It’s really a problem for reconstructive surgery. Patients get left by the wayside and are having to scramble to find someone to do their reconstruction.

WHERE DO SEE HEALTH INSURANCE IN THE FUTURE?
Insurance companies have already increased their premiums. They’re anticipating that they’ll have to pay for the people who don’t have insurance. A lot of people may or may not be able to afford insurance years from now because of that trend.


Dr. Brian K. HermanDR. BRIAN K. HERMAN

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Interventional Neuroradiologist
Eisenhower Imaging Center

MEDICAL SCHOOL: University of California, Los Angeles
INTERNSHIP AND RESIDENCY: University of California, Irvine
FELLOWSHIP: Harbor UCLA Medical Center
BOARD CERTIFICATION: American Board of Radiology

THE PATIENT I WILL NEVER FORGET:
I certainly remember my first case in 1996, when I was a resident. A 65-year-old patient had a stroke on the table during a diagnostic cerebral angiogram. She developed a clot in her neck that moved into her middle cerebral artery. She suddenly began screaming, “I want more!” And that’s all she could say. I wanted to try this experimental procedure where you use thrombolytic agents to dissolve the clot in the brain. My colleagues told me I was crazy and they all left the room, and I spent the next six hours with her alone, with her screaming. After six hours, she became normal; and she went home the next day. I realized this woman had everything to lose, but really nothing to lose in terms of treatment. And it seemed like it was an obvious choice, to take that risk. I risked her life. That’s the cutting edge we walk — between reanimating the brain and revascularizing, resulting in hemorrhage and death or other complications. It’s the bleeding edge.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR WHEN YOU’RE CHOOSING A DOCTOR FOR YOURSELF?
I want a doctor who doesn’t wear their ego all over their shirt. I want a doctor who says, “You know, I don’t know about that. Let me look into that.” Or who just connects and steps out of that physician role. You can’t always find that in your physician. The ego is a tremendous impediment to everything on this planet, and its role plays out equally bad in medicine.

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THE LIFE-AND-DEATH RESPONSIBILITIES OF BEING A DOCTOR?
Doctors develop a removal, because [the responsibility] wears on them. It’s inevitable, maybe, that they start to pull away a certain distance to protect themselves. And I can understand that. But the truth is, the more you dig into it, the less protection you need. Because you know you’re doing it for the right reason. You don’t need protection from truth, from the right avenue or approach for the patient.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE FOR A HEALTHY LIFE?
Try to be happy and eat close to the earth. And try to live with an open heart, so your body doesn’t slowly react to that guarded tension and closure that I think slowly closes our vessels. I think that’s what is killing everybody: closing the vessels in your heart, closing the vessels in your brain.


Dr. Suzanne M. QuardtDR. SUZANNE M. QUARDT

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Section Chief of Plastic Surgery
Eisenhower Medical Center

MEDICAL SCHOOL: University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey-N.J. Medical School campus in Newark
INTERNSHIP AND RESIDENCY: University of Southern California Medical Center
FELLOWSHIP: University of Southern California Medical Center, Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, Marina Plastic Surgery Associates
BOARD CERTIFICATION: American Board of Plastic Surgery
PROFESSIONAL MEMBERSHIPS: American Board of Plastic
Surgery, California Society of Plastic Surgeons, American Society of Laser Medicine and Surgery

THE PATIENT I WILL NEVER FORGET:
I had a patient in her late 40s who was initially referred to me for a chronic wound of her left chest, after undergoing a mastectomy for breast cancer and radiation treatments. It left her disfigured with a normal breast on one side and the complete absence of a breast on the contra-lateral side. I am a wound-care specialist and perform a number of flaps and reconstructive surgeries for those problems. What I found was that she was such an intriguing patient. She was young and active and turned out to be a former governmental agent. We performed a complete left breast reconstruction using a musculocutaneous flap from her back and expanding that and putting in an implant. She was trying to heal this chronically draining wound that was painful, and she walked away with pretty much a reconstructed body. I think what was most impressive was how she said it changed her life. She could move forward with her reconstructed body and her reconstructed life.

WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES IN HEALTH CARE NOWADAYS?
Decisions made by nonphysicians. It’s challenging when administrative people dictate the required diagnostic tests and treatments. I understand that healthcare is a business, but sometimes you want to implement a treatment regimen for a patient that you feel is in their best interest. However, it doesn’t necessarily get prior authorization or approval from their particular insurance agency.

WHAT ARE YOUR GREATEST JOB SATISFACTIONS?
I love everything about my job. I love what I do. I love that our field is so comprehensive and creative. I’ve always had an artistic flair growing up. I love music, art, and dance — the fact that you can take an artistic, creative eye and your expertise and technological skills and perform life-changing operations for patients. When doctors possess a complete knowledge base and also love what they do and have compassion and empathy for patients they treat — treat them like your own family members — that’s a winning combination.


Dr. Elliot B. LanderDR. ELLIOT B. LANDER

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Urologist, Eisenhower Medical Center
Medical Director, California Stem Cell Treatment Center

MEDICAL SCHOOL: University of California, Irvine
INTERNSHIP AND RESIDENCY: University of California, Irvine
BOARD CERTIFICATION: American Board of Urology
PROFESSIONAL MEMBERSHIPS: American Board of Urology

THE PATIENT I WILL NEVER FORGET
A patient we treated a couple months ago had a degenerative neurological disease. He had been to dozens of institutions around the country, and no one could tell him exactly what he had. His muscles were atrophying and he was slowly fading away. His physicians told him to start visiting with his family and consider getting his affairs together because things were going badly. He was a high-functioning guy: a 47-year-old who ran a company. He came for stem cell treatment [at the California Stem Cell Treatment Center in Rancho Mirage], and about a month after intravenous stem cell treatment, he reported he was back to where he was about a year earlier, in terms of his muscle strength and ability to think and to work and to be mobile. We don’t know what the future holds for him, and we can’t say, “Oh good, he’s cured, it’s over.” But we did restore function. Cases like that really speak to me. They tell me that we’re going in the right direction.

HOW DID YOU GO FROM UROLOGIST TO STEM CELL RESEARCHER?
I made some pretty big life changes a few years ago. After being in an extremely busy practice for years, I discontinued my relationship with all the insurance contracts, including Medicare. Overnight, I went from seeing 50 patients a day to five or 10 patients a day. It was difficult in many ways, but it was very liberating. Now I have time to sit down with people and find out what’s happening with them beyond their prostate or their bladder. It actually put me back in touch with all the reasons I became a doctor. I’m probably one of the only physicians I know who doesn’t feel stressed by their work.

WHAT’S THE GREAT HOPE ABOUT STEM CELLS?
I feel like I am really healing people instead of just using drugs and surgeries. We’re using patients’ own regenerative cells [not embryonic cells] to rebuild and reconstitute a variety of degenerative diseases, like chronic back pain, multiple sclerosis, and neurological diseases. There’s a treasure chest of stem cells in the human adipose [fat] tissue, at levels maybe 3,000 times higher than in bone marrow. And the more stem cells you can use, the better your chances of successful treatment. The technology we use is from Korea. Just last year, a special enzyme became commercially available to help release the stem cells from fat. We are one of first centers in the country using this kind of treatment. It’s patient-funded research, and we set our rates low so they’re affordable. We continue to be surprised and delighted by the findings we’re having. It’s very exciting.


Dr. M. Georgeta VargaDR. M. GEORGETA VARGA

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Neurologist
Desert Regional Medical Center

MEDICAL SCHOOL: University of Cluj-Napoca Medical School, Romania
RESIDENCY: University of Cluj-Napoca Medical School, University of Oklahoma
FELLOWSHIP: Cleveland Clinic, Ohio
BOARD CERTIFICATION: American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology
PROFESSIONAL MEMBERSHIPS: Movement Disorder Society, North American Neuromodulation Society, American Academy of Neurology

THE PATIENT I WILL NEVER FORGET:
One patient came to me with Parkinson’s disease, and he had slowly deteriorated to the point where he’d become pretty much homebound with little social interaction. He hadn’t been properly medicated, but had been told he was fine. I saw he wasn’t fine at all. Two months later, his quality of life improved so much. He’s now playing tennis and golf, like many other 68-year-old men. I was at dinner at a restaurant one night, and somebody at my table mentioned my name. At another table was a group of people who heard it, and they came over to me and said, “Dr. Varga, thank you very much for what you have done for our friend. This is the man we knew 10 years ago, and we lost him for the last couple of years. Now he’s back.” That was very rewarding to hear.

WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES A GOOD DOCTOR?
A good doctor is one that is well-trained and knowledgeable and stays updated. Today, things in medicine are moving very fast. You need to be dedicated to the profession. It’s a lifestyle. It’s not a job. And in medicine, there’s nothing black and white. Sometimes, we are in the gray area. Even when you’re 100 percent sure about something, you should always have a small percentage of doubt.

WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE ABOUT TODAY’S MEDICAL FIELD?
Dealing with the politics of medicine. In California especially, there’s a very high percentage of HMOs, and it’s dragging down the quality of care. The impossibility of patients to reach a specialist makes the management of these patients very difficult.


Dr. David W. DuffnerDR. DAVID W. DUFFNER

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Orthopedic Surgeon and Chief of Surgery
Desert Regional Medical Center

MEDICAL SCHOOL: University of Okalahoma, Okalahoma City
RESIDENCY AND INTERNSHIP: Scott and White Clinic, Texas A&M School of Medicine
FELLOWSHIP: University of Basel, Switzerland
BOARD CERTIFICATION: American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery
PROFESSIONAL MEMBERSHIPS: California and Riverside County Medical Associations, North American Spine Society (founding member)

THE PATIENT I WILL NEVER FORGET:
There was one lady I treated when I was in Texas. She was driving a small compact pickup truck, taking kids home from school in a rural area. She went on to this ranch and crossed a cattle guard made of a welded four-inch pipe. The thing snapped and came up through the floorboard of her car and caused an open pelvic fracture. The pipe actually went up through her pelvis. The paramedics cut off both ends of the pipe and brought her into the emergency room with the pipe stuck in her body. We had to remove the four-inch pipe and then treat the wounds and her other injuries. She was quite a remarkable lady, because she was very stoic and had a very positive attitude. She and her husband were both Cajuns and were just very tough, self-reliant people. And this lady never complained. She had a fantastic result, and she was able to return to her previous lifestyle with no permanent impairment. Those kind of multiple trauma cases stick in your mind, because the injury is quite startling to see. And you think, “How am I going to solve this?” They make you a better surgeon in general, because they force you to think outside the box.

WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES A GOOD DOCTOR?
I think it comes down to communication. It’s fair to say that the majority of doctors are well trained. The important thing is for the doctor to understand the patient’s problem and to be able to communicate with them in a way that a layperson can understand so it makes sense. You don’t have to explain the science behind everything, but just be able to communicate so that you’re on the same page and can talk about what the reasonable expectations are for the outcome.

WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ABOUT THE RISING COSTS OF HEALTHCARE?
There’s a lot of attention on pricing, whether it’s drugs or surgery or hospital care. But the pricing is not what’s driving the overall expenditure of healthcare. What is driving it is demand. And what’s behind that, I believe, is individual responsibility, or lack thereof, of someone’s own health. In my particular field, a lot of that is irresponsible behavior: getting on a motorcycle after you’ve been drinking beer or smoking pot or whatever. What’s coming into the emergency room are people’s lifestyles and their lack of responsibility for living safely. For the politicians, this is not a popular topic, talking about personal responsibility.
 

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