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 David Fenner, MD
Children are the core of Dr. David Fenner’s medical practice – and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Every day, I see kids from newborns all the way up to their mid-20s,” says Fenner, an MD who is president of The Children’s Medical Group, a private practice with nine offices throughout the mid-Hudson Valley.
“As a pediatrician, my patients range from absolutely healthy kids to those with chronic, serious illnesses. It’s quite a variety, a blend throughout the day.”
Fenner grew up in Michigan and moved to New York State as a senior in high school. He completed undergrad studies at SUNY Plattsburgh, then went to medical school and completed his post-grad training at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx.
When it came time to choose his training path in medicine, Fenner realized his “people person” traits were drawing him toward primary-care medicine, where he could develop an ongoing relationship with patients.
“In primary care, like pediatrics or family practice or child medicine, you spend your day interacting with patients — or, in my case, young patients and their families. I wanted continuity and a relationship with the families and kids.”
By comparison, he says, “in a hospital-based situation, you’ll spend more of your time interacting with colleagues and medical staff.”
Fenner says he’s among many — both medical professionals and members of the public — who lament the nationwide demise of primary-care physicians. Economics, he says, has a lot to do with it.
“Medical school has become tremendously expensive, and primary care doesn’t pay nearly as well as specialty fields. So I think many medical students are finding it hard, even if they’re interested in primary care, to do it because of the student debts they’ve incurred. When I went to medical school, it was much less expensive. My first year in med school, tuition for a full year was $3,750, and, by my last year, when I graduated in 1980, it was about $6,600. Now it can be $60,000 and up a year.”
Still, some med students do choose primary care. “You have to go into it wanting to be someone’s doctor, as opposed to being a surgeon — and I have great respect for surgeons. But their interaction is different; they perform a procedure and fix you up, and, after recovery, rarely see the same patient again.”
Fenner, who practices primarily out of the medical group’s Rhinebeck office, is also chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie.
When it comes to the current state of pediatrics, “I see two contrasting trends,” he says. “One involves the things we often hear about — the increase in obesity, drug use among kids, all the negatives.” But, he says, “there’s also an increased interest in health in many families. Some families and kids are really getting with the program.”
Another key issue involving kids, especially teens: “They’re so sleep-deprived. One reason is that kids are glued to their digital devices and computers day and night. The wavelengths in the light emitted from smartphones and computers can affect the eye; they don’t allow your brain to turn off properly, so the body’s sleep mechanism is affected.”
Fenner, who lives in Poughkeepsie, says he promotes the concept of a three-legged stool, an antidote to stress – exercise, sleep, and nutrition — to help stay healthy.
“There’s actually a fourth leg, too,” he adds. “Fun is that fourth leg — decreasing some of the stress and pressure that parents and schools put on kids, and emphasizing having some time just for the joy of childhood. It’s all very simple: Eat healthy, exercise, get some sleep, and have some fun.”
Service to others is another key part of Fenner’s personal formula for optimal living. He’s traveled 17 times with the nonprofit group Healing the Children, performing surgical cleft-lip and cleft-palate repairs on kids in third-world countries, mostly in South America. He’s scheduled for a trip to Colombia this autumn with the organization.
“I do the pre-operative screening and post-op and discharge care; my job is the direct patient and family contact. It’s given me a wonderful new perspective,” he says. “I’ve realized that no matter if I treat children in my own community or in an entirely different country, rich or poor, I come to the same conclusion: Kids are the same everywhere.”