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Healthy Monday: About 20 new doctors settle in area, ready to serve you

POSTED: August 8, 2008 5:01 a.m.
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Mitch Sheikh

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Summer is the growing season, not just for plants but for Gainesville’s medical community.

New physicians come to town throughout the year, but the majority arrive during the summer. Some have just completed their residencies and are going into private practice for the first time. Others choose to switch jobs in the summer because it’s easier for their families to relocate.

Over the past few months, about 20 doctors have begun practicing in the Hall County area, representing a wide variety of specialties. This summer’s crop includes two pediatricians, a neurologist, a psychiatrist, a neonatologist, an oncologist (cancer doctor), a nephrologist (kidney specialist), an endocrinologist (diabetes specialist), a vascular surgeon, two internal medicine physicians and four family practice doctors.

Most of the newcomers say their main reason for coming here was location, location, location.

"My wife and I came here from Birmingham," said Dr. Daniel Cobb, 31, who joined Gainesville Neurology Group on July 21. "We were looking for a smaller-town atmosphere, but a place that had outdoor opportunities."

Cobb said despite spending most of his life in Alabama, he had never heard of Gainesville. "But I did know of the lake, because of the 1996 Olympics."

Neurologists treat serious conditions involving the brain and nervous system, so Cobb needed access to sophisticated medical testing. He found it at Gainesville’s Northeast Georgia Medical Center.

"The hospital was bigger and nicer than I expected," he said.

With the region’s large population of retirees, Cobb’s services will be in demand. Many of the diseases he treats, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and stroke, occur later in life.

"As the country ages, we’re going to need more neurologists, and it’s a specialty not many people go into," he said.

On the other end of the age spectrum, there’s a growing need for doctors who take care of premature babies. Dr. Armando Castillo, 38, recently joined the Longstreet Clinic’s neonatology department. He was drawn to Gainesville in part because Northeast Georgia Medical Center is building a brand-new neonatal intensive care unit.

"We’re going to be able to treat babies so sick they used to have to go to Atlanta," he said. "It will be a great advantage."

Castillo attended medical school in New York but did his clinical training in Georgia, including a pediatrics residency at Mercer University and neonatology residency at Emory. After working at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston, he didn’t want to live in a big city anymore.

Married with two boys ages 2 and 8, Castillo felt Gainesville would provide a better environment for his children. "It’s a great place to raise a family," he said.

Though he started out in pediatrics, Castillo wanted to go into neonatology because it gave him the opportunity to contribute new knowledge to the field.

"I’ve always had an interest in helping very premature infants survive," he said. "It’s cutting-edge science, and that’s exciting."

The Longstreet Clinic also has two new pediatricians, both of whom chose a different path from Castillo.

"When you interact with kids, you interact with the whole family, and that’s one aspect I like about it," said Dr. Rachel Crudgington, 33.

She started at Longstreet on July 28, after working at a children’s hospital in Augusta. Before going to medical school at the Medical College of Georgia she earned a master’s degree in public health at Emory.

"I wanted to learn more about the administrative side of being a doctor," she said. "But I always knew I wanted to go into pediatrics. I like newborn care and working with new moms."

Longstreet’s other new pediatrician is Dr. Mujtaba "Mitch" Sheikh, 34. He started there on July 10 after working for three years at the Medlink clinic in Winder.

Sheikh said he was seeking better prospects for professional growth. "Here, I’m on a partnership track, rather than being just an employee," he said.

Later this month, he’ll begin spending most of his working hours at Longstreet’s Buford office. It’ll be an easy commute for Sheikh, who lives in Lawrenceville with his wife and three children.

Dr. Stacey Parker, 34, is also looking forward to a shorter and more pleasant commute. A Marietta resident for 20 years, she is in the process of moving to White County. Friday, she began working there as a family medicine physician at Cleveland Neighborhood Healthcare Center, part of Northeast Georgia Health System.

Parker finished her tenure as chief resident at Atlanta Medical Center in June. She initially was trained as an obstetrician-gynecologist, delivering about 500 babies before deciding to go into family medicine instead.

"We call it ‘womb to tomb,’" she said. "In family medicine, you take care of people from the time they’re born until they die. That’s one reason I wanted to practice in a more rural area, to get back to that traditional doctor-patient relationship."

Parker, who has two children, said she is thrilled to be able to live in the Northeast Georgia mountains, where she and her family have always enjoyed vacationing.

Family matters were a big consideration as well for Dr. William Bedingfield, 35, an internal medicine physician who began working at Northeast Georgia Diagnostic Clinic in May. A Savannah native, he had been practicing in Rome for six years and was looking to change jobs.

"We have four young children, and my wife and I did not want to be in metro Atlanta," he said. "Gainesville had a lot to offer. It’s medically advanced for the size town it is, and the Diagnostic Clinic has an excellent reputation."

Dr. Ana Segarra-Brechtel, 38, is a psychiatrist who began working July 28 at Laurelwood, Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s mental-health unit. She and her husband moved here about a month ago from Gainesville, Fla.

Segarra-Brechtel felt she could be of service to Hall County because as a native of Puerto Rico, she is bilingual. And as a female psychiatrist, she has a special affinity for treating women and children.

Segarra-Brechtel studied psychology in college, then ran a restaurant in San Juan before realizing that she wanted to be a doctor.

"I went to medical school specifically so I could become a psychiatrist," she said. "I really love listening to people."

She also loves living in Georgia, where she’s been overwhelmed at how warmly strangers have accepted her.

"I’m so glad I came here," she said. "The people are so nice."



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