Top Doctors 2010
From surgeons to psychiatrists, meet the Hudson Valley’s top 101 medical specialists — as reviewed by their peers and fellow physicians
(page 6 of 6)
Sherma Winchester-Penny, M.D.
By the time she was five years old, Dr. Sherma Winchester-Penny was already drawn to helping others. “My great-grandmother was ill and I would take care of her, and I realized that I kind of enjoyed it,” Winchester-Penny recalls. But as a little girl growing up in Trinidad, her career options were limited. “At that time, you didn’t think of going into medicine; you thought of nursing. So I wanted to be a nurse.”
She moved to the U.S. with her family at age 11 and grew up in the Bronx. Combining vocational high school and nursing studies, Winchester-Penny got LPN certification, then went to Lehman College in the Bronx for her nursing degree.
“After that, I worked for about four years as a nurse and a nursing supervisor. But there was something still there, a yearning inside me. I said to myself, ‘You know what, this is not Trinidad. You can become a doctor!’ ” With constant support and encouragement from her uncle (an M.D.) and church pastor, she was inspired to continue her education to reach her goal.
Settled on her career path, she received her medical degree at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, then trained at Bronx Municipal Hospital/Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where she was chief medical resident. This was followed by a fellowship at Albert Einstein-Montefiore, serving as chief cardiology fellow.
Winchester-Penny specializes in noninvasive, consultative cardiology; nuclear cardiology (which consists of introducing very small amounts of radioactive materials, called tracers, into the body to allow cameras to take clear pictures of the heart); and has a special interest in treating women with heart disease. She deals with “the entire cardiology spectrum,” from diagnosing heart problems, all the way through treatment. “In some cases, we refer patients when interventional procedures are needed,” she says.
Winchester-Penny believes that her nursing roots make her a better doctor. “It’s not that doctors aren’t empathetic,” she laughs. “But nursing has that special connection with people, and you never lose that. You use therapeutic touch, you hug patients. Some doctors are intimidated by that sort of thing, but nurses understand the close contact, they understand really getting to know a patient.”
Her early days of working in the Bronx also helped her connect with patients. “A lot of the local people there weren’t getting much health care; many lived in deprived circumstances. I wanted to make a difference; those were the kinds of patients I wanted to focus on helping — and I wanted to teach my patients about good health.”
Winchester-Penny and her family live in Orange County, where she heads the nuclear cardiology department at Crystal Run Healthcare LLP, based in Middletown.
What does she want the public to know about cardiovascular care? “Mostly, that there are things you can do to decrease cardiovascular disease risk. And that if you do have heart disease, it is nearly always treatable.” One key, Dr. Winchester-Penny says, is to tune in to your body. “If you sense that something is wrong, pursue it. Even a stress-test result or EKG that turns out normal doesn’t always mean there’s no problem. Tell your doctor if you don’t feel right — and be persistent in following up.”
Winchester-Penny recalls one patient who turned up at her office, reporting mild chest discomfort. “We did tests, and nothing turned up. But I told her that, after she left my office, if she felt worse — if something seemed wrong — to go straight to the emergency room.”
Sure enough, the next weekend, the woman’s chest pains worsened. She went to the ER, and tests still came back negative. “They wanted to send her home. But she remembered what I’d told her: that if she had a gut feeling something wasn’t right, she should insist on getting more tests,” recalls Winchester-Penny. The woman did insist and within 24 hours she was transported to Westchester Medical Center for open-heart surgery. “She’s fine now, and she still thanks me for encouraging her to advocate for her own care,” says Winchester-Penny.
“This wasn’t to say the physicians did something wrong in her diagnosis,” Winchester-Penny stresses. “But some patients, especially women, don’t always have the traditional ‘there’s an elephant sitting on my chest’ kind of pain with heart disease. Women, in particular, need to be aware of mild symptoms like ‘I feel fatigued every time I walk the dog’ or ‘I have shortness of breath when I climb stairs.’ Women get their mammograms every year, but some don’t think as much about heart problems — when, in fact, the number one killer of women isn’t cancer, it’s cardiovascular disease.”
Fortunately, more folks — men and women alike — do seem to be getting the message about heart disease, she notes. “One of my patients recently came in, saying he had indigestion. People were telling him to just take Tums, but he’d heard somewhere that indigestion can be a sign of heart disease. Luckily he had it checked out, because he does have a heart blockage and may be getting cardiac catheterization.”
She’s a strong believer in focusing on each patient as a person. “Medicine can’t be rushed,” she says. “Seeing someone for five minutes is not good medicine. It’s not about just examining them and telling them something and then they leave. You can offer the best MRIs, the most sophisticated CAT scans, but you also have to listen to what a patient says. The best diagnostic tool any physician has is the patient’s medical history. You need to spend time talking with a person to find out what’s really going on with them.”
She sums up: “I love my patients. And I want them to have input, to be part of their health plan. It’s not like I’m up here on a pedestal and they’re down there. We’re all at the same level. And on my part, being able to listen, have patience, sympathy, and to make my patients feel comfortable — it all makes a difference in their medical care.”
Castle Connolly Medical Ltd. is a healthcare 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.
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 on-line 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.
This year, in conjunction with Hudson Valley magazine, Castle Connolly additionally opened up the nomination survey process to ALL licensed physicians in the magazine’s markets through a special on-line site. With the support of the marketing staff at all the area hospitals, and through extensive print and on-line promotions through the magazine, the response was excellent. This enabled Castle Connolly to identify many new Castle Connolly Top Doctors in the Hudson Valley region who have been added to this Top Doctors feature this year.