A Chat With Four Leading Doctors in the Hudson Valley
Meet four of the Valley’s Top Doctors in 2015
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Meet Catherine R. Bartholomew, MD
Catherine Bartholomew, MD, was born and raised in the Hudson Valley. An Albany native, she graduated from Russell Sage College in Troy.
Following a stint at the University of Houston in Texas, Bartholomew earned her medical degree at Albany Medical College in 1984.
After graduation and an internal medicine residency at Albany Medical Center, she began a fellowship in gastroenterology at Albany Medical College.
“I decided to stay in Albany,” Bartholomew says. “My family’s here, and I started my career here.” Today, that busy career includes treating patients at Albany Medical Center as well as teaching medical students.
“As faculty members, we give classroom lectures to first- and second-year medical students, as well as to graduates who are medical residents,” Bartholomew explains. “And, as a gastroenterologist, I also take part in fellowship training. We balance all that with an office clinical practice, making rounds in the hospital, and taking night calls. It’s exciting. I’ve never regretted that I chose this path.”
Even as a youngster, she recalls, “I always wanted to be a physician. In middle school, I decided that’s what I was going to do. My father was an engineer; I looked at engineering, but always had it in my head I was going to be a physician. And I never once thought, as a woman back in the 1970s, that I’d never be able to do it.”
Bartholomew admits it can be challenging to juggle a demanding career and home life – including raising two daughters. But she’s made it happen. And she’s not the only physician in her family: Her husband, Anthony Ritaccio, MD, heads the Epilepsy and Human Brain Mapping Program at the medical center.
Today, along with her role as full professor in the medical college, Bartholomew is chief of the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Albany Medical College.
Gastroenterology involves conditions of the digestive tract and related organs. “We see a variety of patients; some are in the hospital with significant GI medical issues; others, we treat in the office,” she says. Many GI treatments, Bartholomew says, are done with endoscopes — tiny, flexible tubes with mini cameras attached on the end, allowing physicians to see inside the body and perform procedures without requiring traditional open surgery.
“It’s considered a nonsurgical procedure, but the results are comparable to surgery,” she says. “Some endoscopy is combined with ultrasound, to get a detailed look at, say, the stomach lining.”
Breakthrough treatments in the field of gastroenterology include an endoscopic procedure approved in July by the FDA that's used in bariatrics. “It’s a saline-filled balloon put in place endoscopically” into the stomach through the mouth, Bartholomew says. “It temporarily distends the stomach, so people feel full sooner during a meal.”
She says the medical center hopes to introduce the procedure soon, “as a bridge, mostly for certain patients who are thinking about having full bariatric surgery. It helps them get started in their weight-reduction program.”
Digestion may not be a particularly glamorous topic, but it’s certainly an important one, and, according to Bartholomew, people are paying attention to it more than ever. Still, “healthy food can be an interesting paradox,” she says. “Some actually tend to cause more stomach upset than junk food does, because healthy fruits and vegetables give some people bloating, even diarrhea. Moderation, she says, is key. “You don’t want to overload your diet with fiber, for example. Some people go sort of crazy with fiber, then have discomfort because they overdo that one food group.”
Others, she says, “hear about low-carb or gluten-free diets, and come into the office convinced they’re gluten-intolerant. Some people do find that eliminating different things in their diet — like going on a low-gluten diet for a period of time — can give improvement. Yet sometimes, months later, they say the symptoms come back, indicating it was more than just gluten involved. So I recommend eating a healthy diet, but don’t go to extremes. Sometimes, lowering carb content or gluten might help you feel better. But I don’t suggest eliminating something entirely, like gluten, unless you have been diagnosed with celiac disease.”
When it comes to her accomplishments in the medical field, Bartholomew is modest about being one of very few women who head a hospital’s division of gastroenterology.
“I do participate on some national medical-society committees, and speak at women’s leadership conferences, like various American Medical Women’s Assoication engagements,” she says. “I hope I can offer mentorship and inspiration to female medical students. I’d like to help make sure women realize they can excel in this area while still raising a family, and have a lot of fulfillment in many realms.”