Annual Best Black Doctors Issue
Stephen Carryl, M.D. Chairman & Program Director, Department of Surgery, The Brooklyn Hospital Center Founder & President, Overseas Medical Assistance Team, Brooklyn, N.Y.
When Stephen S. Carryl was a first-year medical student at the Loma Linda University School of Medicine, in Loma Linda, California, his father hoped his son would return to Linden, in his native Guyana, to volunteer at the local hospital. “At that time I wasn’t prepared,” says Carryl. “I was not equipped because I was just starting medical school.”
But by 1991, after graduating from medical school and completing four years of training in surgery, Carryl was ready. He gathered a group of medical practitioners to join him in volunteering services to the Linden Hospital Complex in Guyana. The trip was so successful and gratifying that Carryl decided to offer medical assistance to underserved areas of Guyana, as well as the Caribbean and Africa, on a regular basis.
In 1992, Carryl established the Overseas Medical Assistance Team (OMAT), a fully incorporated nonprofit organization. Since then, hundreds of medical professionals, including family practitioners, obstetricians, gynecologists, nurse practitioners and surgeons, have volunteered for 21 humanitarian missions in Haiti, Grenada, St. Lucia, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Guyana and Botswana. The team assists in running medical clinics, conducting surgical procedures and training local doctors and nurses. The organization also has brought medical staff from these countries to the United States for additional training and donated medical equipment.
OMAT recently expanded its services to include domestic assistance through its work with victims of Hurricane Katrina and its preventative health education program in East New York, Brooklyn.
Dr. Carryl is one of a growing number of medical professionals of color who volunteer their services in needy areas of Africa and the Caribbean. Roy Streete, a Jamaican-born, Bronx-based dentist, founded the Organization for International Development, a volunteer group that delivers dental and other medical services to the Caribbean and Africa.
“People are more conscious than they used to be,” says Carryl. This wasn’t always the case. “For years, we had a big problem getting doctors to commit their time,” says Carryl, who uses his vacation time to participate in health missions. “A lot of that has changed in the last five years.”
“Now, every mission we’re limited by the number of people that can be accommodated, not the number of people interested in going,” Carryl says.
OMAT chooses the mission destinations based on need. These are places where patients’ health is often severely impacted by poverty. “When people have to choose between eating and health care, they tend to pick food,” says Carryl.
For example, a significant number of the women Carryl and his team treat in Haiti have no access to mammograms. As a result, many are in the advanced stages of breast cancer by the time they are seen by OMAT.
“I look forward to the missions. It’s the single most satisfying thing that I do. It reminds me of why I became a doctor,” he says. He has missed only two trips in 15 years.
The Path to Service
The notion of becoming a physician first entered Carryl’s mind as a child in Guyana. There weren’t too many doctors in his neighborhood, but one, Dr. Gordon Baird, made a strong impression on the youngster.
When Carryl came to the United States in 1979 to attend Oakwood College in Huntsville, Ala., he did so as a pre-med major. In 1984, he began his medical training at Loma Linda University. During a clinical rotation at White Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles, he decided to become a surgeon.
“I had been of the mindset that surgeons don’t know medicine, but the surgeons I was exposed to (at White Memorial) were the opposite,” says Carryl, “They focused first on being a good doctor. For the first time, I saw myself in terms of being a good doctor who can do surgery when it is indicated. That gave me a sense of fulfillment in terms of where I saw myself fitting in. ”
After graduating from medical school in 1988, Carryl completed an internship and residency in surgery at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., and in 1993 he became that facility’s attending general surgeon. In 1997, he assumed the role of director of the department of surgery at The Brooklyn Hospital Center’s Caledonian Hospital and in 2001 he joined St. Mary’s Hospital, also in Brooklyn, as associate director of the Department of Surgery.
When Carryl was invited to become the chair of surgery at The Brooklyn Hospital Center in 2003, he initially had reservations. “Most chairmen of surgery are older administrative-type surgeons,” says the 44-year-old. In addition, the hospital was deteriorating in both the number and quality of surgeries performed, so whoever accepted this position would have the daunting task of rebuilding the department.
Eventually, he accepted the offer. “It was a challenge I thought I could undertake and be successful,” he says. Successful he has been. He has reinvigorated the Department of Surgery, recruiting a team of surgeons capable of handling the most complicated procedures.
In Carryl’s first year as chair, the hospital’s surgical volume increased by 2,000 cases. The department has continued to experience double-digit growth in the number of surgeries performed. To retain patients, Carryl created orthopedic and pediatric surgical departments, as well as a surgical intensive care unit. He also introduced a center for bariatric surgery, the area in which he specializes. In addition, Carryl is the surgical residency program director, the second busiest surgeon in the hospital and he is an assistant professor of clinical surgery at Weill Medical School of Columbia University.
But family is his priority. One of the benefits of his current position is that he has the weekends free to spend quality time with his wife, JoAnne, and daughters, Leigha (10) and Samella (7), he says. “Your real success is what happens with your family,” he says.
A member of the Bethany Seventh Day Adventist Church in Westbury, Long Island, he pays homage to both his parents through the Carmen and Francis Carryl Humanitarian Service Award, established in 1997 and given each year to someone who has demonstrated outstanding medical assistance in developing countries.
The Consumers Research Council of America recently named him one of America’s Top Surgeons. Last year, he received the 6th Annual Multicultural Healthcare Award, given by American Legacy and pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG, for his global and African-American healthcare advocacy. “I take it with humility. I haven’t any attitude,” says Carryl of his accolades. “I’m just happy to be recognized for what I’m doing.”
—Angela Johnson Meadows
Carolyn Britton, M.D.
Associate Professor of Clinical Neurology
The New York Presbyterian Hospital at
Columbia University Medical Center, New York City
Carolyn Britton, M.D., has seen much in her professional life, but tears still well in her eyes when she thinks of the many people she knew who died of AIDS. One of six siblings, Dr. Britton was born and raised in Huntsville, Ala., where, she proudly declares, the nation’s space program started. She graduated from New York University School of Medicine in 1975, did a two-year residency at Harlem Hospital Medical Center, and a three-year residency in neurology at the Neurological Institute at The New York Presbyterian Hospital at Columbia University Medical Center, where she has re-mained. She holds certifications in neurology and internal medicine and her expertise extends to HIV, Lyme disease and Neurovirology.
Medical studies, particularly the field of neuroscience, with all its problems and complexities, fit her perfectly, she says. “It suits my personality. Some people know they’re destined for some things. For me, it was the only career choice. All my life, I wanted to be a physician. It is one of the gifts of my life. I was always very upset to see people suffer,” she says.
Being female and African-Amer-ican creates unique challenges in the professional world, essentially piling on the burden of proving you’re “a human being with a brain,” she says. In medicine, however, when one is in a position of authority, as she is, communicating successfully becomes a crucial issue, especially when focusing on the task at hand.
Dr. Britton concedes that she still is trying to “articulate some things” for herself. After 20 years as a physician, however, her dream has been partially fulfilled. Now, “I would like to see that health care access should not be a question or a reward for being a good person,” she says. “Even though medicine is big business, individual physicians’ business is still small business.”
She says she will likely return to working in the HIV field, because the sero-conversion from HIV to AIDS is highest among African-American women. “I’d like to see education once again. This conversation about HIV has to go on and on,” she says. “I want to work with young people to help them realize their dreams and to believe in themselves.”
—Antoine B. Craigwell
Valentine J. Burroughs, M.D., M.B.A
Chief Medical Officer & Chairman
Department of Medicine,
North General Hospital, New York City
A desire to help those who cannot provide for themselves became the foundation of Valentine J. Burroughs’ medical career. “It was a battle I knew someone had to take up,” says Burroughs.
Burroughs received his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor. He completed his internship and residency, including a year as chief medical resident, at Harlem Hospital Center, New York City, and a fellowship in endocrinology and metabolism at New York University. In 2004, he earned a Physicians Executive M.B.A. from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Endocrinology has captivated Burroughs since his first undergraduate class in the subject. He is fascinated, he says, by the ability of a hormone released in one part of the body to impact enzymes and organ systems in a completely different area. “There’s no physical connection; it’s simply a messenger connection,” says Burroughs. “Keeping track of those messengers is not an easy thing.”
After completing his fellowship at NYU, Burroughs opened an internal medicine and endocrinology practice in Harlem. His focus on diabetes and
cardiovascular disease—conditions that disproportionately affect African-Americans and Latinos—positioned him as a national expert on the treatment of those diseases in minority populations and on minority health issues overall.
Burroughs spent 20 years in private practice, but remained dedicated to reaching as many people as possible through his work. He welcomed the opportunity five years ago, when he was recruited by Manhattan’s North General Hospital, where he currently is chief medical officer and chairman of the Department of Medicine. “I wanted to have a wider sphere of influence. The benefit you can have on large populations is limited when you treat them one at a time,” he says.
In his current role, Burroughs oversees the patient care outcomes in all divisions of internal medicine at the hospital. He also is the medical director and endocrinologist at Health Care New York IPA and serves on the boards of the Center for Multicultural and Community Affairs at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and Alliance for Health Improvement between North General Hospital and Mt. Sinai Medical Center.
—Angela Johnson Meadows