What gives you hope? That’s a simple question, but a big question. It’s a topic that feels especially timely at the start of another new year.
It’s the question we posed to the five doctors profiled inside our annual list of the best doctors in Kansas City. When we picked these five doctors from among the 620 you’ll find listed by specialty, we warned them this question was coming. And yet they tended to pause before answering, carefully considering their response before offering it.
Here’s what they said, as told to Susie Whitfield
Dr. Rebecca Chain, Dermatology:
I’m biased: I think dermatology is the best field of medicine. It’s a specialty, but to me, it’s the closest thing to family care. I have patients who are infants, and I have patients who are one hundred years old. I see whole families in what tend to be long-term relationships. What I love to hear is, “Oh, my mother sees you and she just loves you!” or “My daughter told me I have to see you!” This tells me that my patients trust me enough to bring their family members to see me, which is a very special relationship.
When I graduated from residency, there were so many conditions that had no FDA-approved treatments, but just in the past five to ten years, we have had so many breakthroughs in treating very difficult-to-treat diseases such as psoriasis, vitiligo and alopecia areata. In the last year, there have been several FDA approvals for a novel class of medication called JAK inhibitors. We’ve also had amazing success treating melanomas, and these changes give me hope for my patients and as a doctor. People can be given not only quality of life but quantity of life. Unfortunately, because our skin is on the outside, conditions can be very stigmatizing; however, because of new breakthroughs in treatment that are now advertised in the media, people realize that there is hope for treating a condition that they didn’t even know the name of. Another thing that gives me hope is that we’re starting to see success in teaching people about sun safety. Young people in particular are now aware of sun safety and of the danger of tanning beds and sunburns. This awareness means we can really reduce skin cancer numbers, which all dermatologists hope for.
Dr. Jayne Opeña Bumgarner, Family medicine:
I have worked in family medicine for almost thirteen years. Upon graduating residency in 2010, I began my practice in Savannah, Missouri, a rural town of about five thousand people just north of St. Joseph. In Savannah, I was able to care for my patients both in the clinic and in the hospital, which helps patient care continuity. In 2014, I came to Independence, which has that same small-town feel as Savannah. Because I sometimes see entire families in my practice, some from the moment they are born, I experience so much joy. Treating patients from the time they are little is so exciting, and so is meeting the grandparents, the grandchildren and all the other relatives—it’s really the motivating factor. I occasionally hear, “Hi! You are the doctor of my best friend’s mom!” and then that family joins our practice. Sadly, I also see patients who are end-of-life, but being with the family at that time helps me realize how important it is to be available to provide comfort. I am so touched when a patient brings home-grown tomatoes to my office. Growing up in the Philippines, I remember having one general practitioner who did everything. I have always wanted to be that kind of doctor, and to be there for everyone has given me the greatest joy and hope for the future.
Dr. Victor Perez, Plastic surgery:
A lot of people get confused with what plastic surgery is. We have two different branches in plastic surgery. One is that we do reconstructive surgery, which is where a patient has a problem that is medically necessary to fix. And then we also have the cosmetic part—we just want to improve the aesthetics. There is nothing wrong with the patient; the patient just wants to have something done that makes them feel better. I am very proud of what I am because it’s the most difficult specialty to get into. In my office, I don’t do any reconstructive work, but I have been the plastic surgeon for the Kansas City VA hospital since 2002, so I do the reconstructive part of my practice there. I spend twenty hours a week at the VA. I have a really good balance in my practice.
I came to this country to do my training, and my original plan was to go back to Mexico. I met my wife—she’s from Youngstown, Ohio. My medical school was done in Mexico. I was lucky that my brother was a surgeon there, so I started going into surgeries when I was seventeen years old, during my first year in medical school. That was a long time ago, in 1985.
The University of Kansas has two residents in plastic surgery every year. I’ve been the attending physician, a teacher, for twenty years now. In plastic surgery what gives me hope is the quality of the applicants. The medical students that apply for plastic surgery are the top of the top in medical school. They are doing a lot of stuff that, when I was a resident, we were not doing. They’re doing a lot of research, they’re really smart, and they have intentions of doing the best job possible. Because we get the best medical students, the hope is that plastic surgery will just continue to get better.
Dr. Evelina Swartzman, Obstetrics & Gynecology:
Born in Moldavia in the former Soviet Union, I came to the United States when I was ten. My father was a Holocaust survivor, and because of détente during the time Brezhnev was in power, we were allowed to emigrate as asylum seekers. Our plane landed in New York City on September 11, 1977. This day is the anniversary of a terrible tragedy for all Americans, yet it is also a day of hope for my family.
As a child I had always wanted to be a physician, but my mother strongly objected. In the Soviet Union, 75 percent of physicians were women, but they were all overworked and underpaid. Once we were in the United States, however, she changed her mind, and I went to Brown University for a combined undergraduate and medical degree and did my residency in New York City. My parents did not have many financial resources, and I paid for my education working in a variety of fields, including computers, banking and waitressing.
I had originally wanted to be a plastic surgeon because I’d had a skin graft as a teenager, and I had always wanted to “make things better.” However, I decided to help women feel better rather than just look better.
My twenty-five-year obstetrics and gynecology practice has enabled me to become a part of my patients’ lives. I’ve treated some patients from their teenage years to motherhood—all the way to hysterectomies. I love educating women about their bodies, and I find such hope knowing that they want to bring new life into this world. I am constantly learning about new techniques and treatments, like minimally invasive robotic surgeries, and I am highly optimistic that scientific advances will keep improving the lives of women and the care I can give them.
Dr. Jane Broxterman, Primary Care/Internal Medicine:
I’m a mom of four and I’ve been practicing primary care since I completed training—that would be in 2006. I’ve been at the University of Kansas Health System since 2007, so almost my whole career. I very much enjoy taking care of adults, knowing their stories over time and helping them obtain their best health. Fifty percent of my job is also with education—educating internal medicine residents in the primary care setting—and that brings a lot of job satisfaction to me.
I take care of adults, eighteen and over, sometimes on very complex issues and multiple systems and many diseases. And sometimes on very simple issues and straight primary care and preventative health measures. So my day can be very varied depending on the patients on the list. But the patients are anywhere from eighteen to my oldest patient, who is one hundred and one.
What gives me hope is that the people I see really are doing the best they can. And that comes all different ways. What often happens is that I have a list of things I want to accomplish for a patient on my list and they have an agenda of things they also want to accomplish, and then magically during the visit, all things get handled—and often even more than was on my list or on their list. I can help them from a human perspective, from a holistic perspective, and that’s what gives me hope. It is so enjoyable when they succeed and they’re able to better themselves in all aspects—mind, body and spirit.