Roger DiRuggiero, MD

Physician Brings Depth and Breadth of Experience in Internal Medicine and Urgent Care

“Compassionate and excellent patient care starts with the connection between the provider and the patient.”

Long before Roger DiRuggiero ever donned a white coat or picked up a stethoscope, he was a kid captivated by a family physician. His Uncle Nick was the consummate family doctor of the 1970s, delivering babies and performing surgery. “He was my hero and one of the reasons I chose a career in medicine,” said Dr. DiRuggiero. He also found inspiration from his dad, a pharmacist who always went the extra mile for his customers.

He chose to study medicine in Italy at the University of Padova. Not only was it one of the oldest and most demanding medical schools in the world, but it was near family. He reconnected with his great aunts and uncles during his time there.

Returning to the states for his internal medicine residency, Dr. DiRuggiero worked concurrently at the hospital and an urgent care center. “In urgent care, you treat the full spectrum of ages,” he said. “I really enjoyed acute care and also liked the surgical aspect including being able to delve into orthopedics.” Ultimately, it was his inspiration to open a hybrid practice, incorporating both internal medicine and urgent care, 7 days a week.

Dr. DiRuggiero is excited to be joining Vanguard Medical Group, which follows his core philosophy of family medicine that puts the patient first. Now he looks forward to getting to know a new group of patients.

“I think the most enjoyable thing about my relationships with patients is our social connection,” he said. “It doesn’t make any difference whether it’s the Super Bowl or golf, children or grandchildren, hobbies, or interests. I search for that connection, and we have a continuous dialogue from visit to visit. It makes the office visit more personal, human to human. That helps build trust and ultimately compliance.”

Dr. DiRuggiero finds fulfillment in helping his patients on their health journey. “It’s knowing that I have a broad breadth of knowledge and skill set to treat anybody who comes to our office. They can leave knowing that they have an action plan that keeps them feeling their best.”

When he’s not working, Dr. DiRuggiero enjoys traveling, including to his beloved Italy and to St. Barts. He is an avid golfer and also is teaching himself guitar. He is passionate about staying fit and healthy and starts his daily routine with a gym workout that keeps him feeling his best.

Urvi Patel, PA-C

Physician assistant helps patients take control of their health

“I think of primary care as the headquarters for a patient’s health.”

When Urvi Patel was in high school, her grandfather had a heart attack. That’s when she realized that no one in her family was equipped to deal with a medical emergency.  “I had this opportunity as a first-generation college student to pursue whatever career I wanted, and that’s when I decided on medicine,” she said.

Urvi ultimately chose a career as a physician assistant, and during her schooling, she gravitated toward pediatrics, women’s health, and family medicine. Vanguard Medical Group was a natural fit because the primary care practice incorporates all three, and more. “Vanguard’s team-based care approach creates a supportive environment where everyone is helping each other,” she said. “That not only helps me as a provider, but in turn it benefits our patients.”

She takes the time to really listen to her patients and address their concerns. “It’s so important to listen with an unbiased, nonjudgmental ear,” she said. “That way, you can get to know your patients and get a full picture of their health. The better that you understand the whole person, the better you will be able to provide recommendations for treatment or preventive care.”

Urvi feels the impact that she makes every single day. “I like being able to go home, knowing that I made a difference in someone’s life. That is very fulfilling for me. Helping people is what drew me to medicine in the first place.”

When she’s not working, Urvi loves to read, bake, and spend time with family. “I have a huge family,” she said, “and we see each other lot.”

Nadira Khan, PA-C

Physician Assistant Encourages Self-Care

“Good things happen when we take care of ourselves. We have to learn to prioritize ourselves and our health.

As the oldest of four girls, Nadira Khan was the natural caretaker for her sisters. From a young age, she knew that caring for others would factor into her career choice. She found the ideal role during a hospital volunteer experience while she was in high school. “That’s when I learned about physician assistants,” Nadira said. “I loved everything about the PA profession, from its schooling to its flexibility to its variety.” She chose family medicine because it offered the most varied experience. “It’s something new every single day, and I never tire of it,” she said.

Nadira’s patients appreciate her thoroughness and the time she spends with them. “I’m a very good listener, and I really take the time to understand my patients’ point of view. I want to know how they’re feeling and why they’re feeling that way. My goal is to have the kind of rapport where they can talk to me about anything.”

“I treat all my patients as if they were my family members,” added Nadira. “I want them to thrive no matter what challenges they may face.” That’s why she encourages them to practice self-care. Toward that end, she advocates preventive care, making sure patients are up to date on vaccinations and screenings, and following healthy lifestyles. “At the end of the day, we should learn to give ourselves compassion, time, and attention to focus on our own needs, desires and goals,” she said. “This way we can better support ourselves and our loved ones with a healthy rejuvenated mind/body.”

When she’s not working, Nadira likes to spend time with family and friends back in Brooklyn. She also enjoys working out and practicing her own self-care regimen.

Sydney Pacelli, PA-C

Physician Assistant Partners with Patients on Long-Term Health

“We need to do as much as we can to maximize patients’ health before the point where medical interventions are needed.

Sydney Pacelli was deciding between medical school and a career in research when she discovered the physician assistant profession. “I learned about physician assistants from a family friend, a physician,” she said, “and when I did some research, I found that it was exactly what I wanted.” She valued the opportunity to follow patients’ health long term and enact meaningful change. She especially liked the physician assistant’s role in a team-based approach to healthcare with the focus on the patient at its core.

Sydney chose Vanguard because of the practice’s focus on a medical home. “It’s so important to keep patient care within the community with providers who understand the role of access in delivering quality healthcare,” she said.

Primary care is all about preventive health, noted Sydney, and she strives to meet her patients where they are. “I know how difficult it can be to prioritize diet and exercise, and so we focus on making positive choices and taking small steps toward a larger goal.” Sydney’s patients like that she takes the time to really listen to their concerns and needs, and address them. “I want to build trust with my patients and develop those relationships over time with quality care and follow-up.”

When she’s not working, Sydney enjoys spending time with friends and family, including her three dogs, Tux, Bowtie and Blazer. She also is an outdoor enthusiast and enjoys a guilty pleasure—reality TV shows.

Michelle Tavares, RDN, CDCES

“The best part is helping patients realize they’re able to manage their health through the way they eat.”

Michelle Tavares has always had a passion for healthy living. Her interest in diet and exercise inspired her career as a registered dietitian nutritionist, which has brought her immense joy. In this role, she helps people meet their health and lifestyle goals. Her specialties are medical nutrition therapy and diabetes management.

“I spent several years working at a hospital, where I saw quite a bit of end-stage disease,” she said. “I saw how uncontrolled diabetes was one of the primary conditions that led to these end-stage diseases. Since diabetes can be managed with diet and exercise, I thought this was where my expertise as a dietitian would be best put to use.”

As a registered dietitian, Michelle works in VMG’s Nutrition Counseling and Diabetes Education Program, providing patients the tools and knowledge needed to manage diabetes and health-related diseases. Services include weight loss counseling, medical nutrition therapy, diabetes and prediabetes management counseling, and personalized counseling on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. She advises patients on the role that diet can play and creates a customized nutrition plan.

“I try to individualize sessions for each person based on his or her own unique needs and goals,” said Michelle. “I ask about the person’s schedule and cultural background so that I can truly customize a plan that will be a good fit.”

Michelle has created healthy versions of popular recipes. For example, she re-created a popular South American meal, modifying it for a heart-healthy meal plan. “I removed the salt, which can contribute to high blood pressure. I added different peppers and increased the oregano and garlic. I also included a touch of turmeric because it helps with inflammation. The patient loved it.”

Patients say that Michelle is easy to talk to and makes them feel comfortable. “I enjoy getting to know my patients and being able to individualize my sessions based on their own unique needs and goals,” she said.

When she is not working, Michelle enjoys running, skiing and exercising on her Peloton. She also likes trying new healthy recipes.

Andrew Seise, PA-C

Physician Assistant Brings Clinical Experience with Navy to Family Medicine

“The connections that I make with my patients are my reason to come to work every day.”

As a former Navy corpsman, Andrew Seise (pronounced “cease”) has treated patients of all ranks and statuses. But it’s the connections he makes every day as a physician assistant in primary care that are the most meaningful to him.

“I love the patient interaction,” Andrew said, calling it the highlight of his day. “I enjoy getting to know my patients so that I can better help them stay healthy.”

Andrew’s career choice was initially inspired by an incredible high school science teacher who taught him the fundamentals of anatomy, physiology, and biology. When he enlisted in the Navy, Andrew continued on that track as a hospital corpsman, dispensing first aid and care to the sick and wounded on ship and shore. After completing his enlistment, he decided to continue his education in a physician assistant program. “The more that they described it to me, the more it sounded like what I was doing in the Navy,” he said.

Family medicine was the perfect place for this veteran, father of two, and former youth sports coach. He enjoys helping everyone from children to seniors stay healthy. His patients say he’s a good communicator and easy to talk to. His military service gives him a special connection to his patients who are veterans.

In addition to treating illness and disease, Andrew educates his patients on options for treatment and preventive care. “Education is essential so that patients can be advocates for their own health,” he said.

When he’s not working, Andrew enjoys hiking, kayaking, camping, and outdoor activities with his family.

Margaret Kelly, PA-C

Physician Assistant Prioritizes Patient Relationships in Family Medicine

“Taking the time to listen and creating a dialogue with my patients helps me deliver care that’s uniquely suited to their needs. ”

As the oldest of four, Margaret Kelly grew up caring for her siblings. That was the inspiration for a career of helping others and making a difference. Margaret chose the competitive dual-degree physician assistant program at Seton Hall University, where she earned an undergraduate degree in biology and a master’s degree as a physician assistant. Today, she’s putting those credentials to work at Vanguard.

“My patients have told me I’m a very good listener,” she said. “I also take the time to fully explain their treatment plans and the thought process behind them. My patients seem to truly appreciate that.”

At Vanguard, Margaret has had the chance to treat multiple generations of the same family. “One of my favorite aspects of family medicine is being able to see somebody’s kids and also their parents,” she said. “It means a lot when a patient recommends me to a family member. When you have that trust, it helps immensely with patients wanting to follow my recommendations. That makes a difference in the care that I’m able to provide.”

“Vanguard truly is just as its name implies — ahead of the curve,” she said. “Patients tell me all the time that they appreciate the patient-focused approach that we provide. I also appreciate the supportive team behind me that allows me to work independently but also to consult with them whenever needed.”

Originally from Saratoga Springs in upstate New York, Margaret is getting to know the Jersey shore and very much enjoying the beach in the summer. She also loves to ski in the winter. When she’s not working, she most enjoys spending time with friends and family.

Laura Cannito, APN

Laura Cannito Focuses on Wellness to Improve Patients’ Quality of Life

“Anxiety is the No. 1 behavioral health concern that I treat, and understanding emotional stressors is key to improving one’s overall physical health.”

Laura Cannito’s career journey was driven by her desire to work with patients who have mental health concerns. “I became interested in the relationship between psychology and biology and how this relates to mental health care when I was in college,” says Laura. “Mental health plays a major role in one’s physical health and in primary care practice. Understanding social and family relationships can have a major impact on daily life.”

Prior to joining Vanguard in 2013 as a psychiatric advanced nurse practitioner, she was a charge nurse on the psychiatric unit at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center and a psychiatric nurse practitioner at Saint Clare’s Hospital in Denville. According to Laura, “I was attracted to joining Vanguard Medical Group by its unique patient-centered medical home model where health care providers treat patients as a whole – incorporating physical, mental and behavioral health practices.”

Laura is a behavioral health resource for primary care providers at Vanguard, who help provide the right-fit mental health care for our patients. She consults on mental health issues, helps with referrals, and also sees patients.

Taking the time to talk with patients about their concerns and creating a wellness self-care plan that includes addressing their mental health concerns and lifestyle changes is Laura’s specialty. “Seeing someone with a mental health concern whose job performance or relationships improved after counseling and is able to function at [his or her] full potential is very gratifying,” she says. Laura’s specialties include medication management and the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, illness anxiety disorder and depression.

During her time away from the office, Laura enjoys dancing, hiking and yoga. She is an avid photographer who loves to travel to new destinations in order to recharge.

Justin Yucht, DO, CAQSM

Sports Medicine Physician Helps People With Sports Injuries, Arthritis, Back and Neck Pain, and More

“Problem-solving with patients to help find the right diagnosis and intervention is essential to restoring physical health. This is true for athletes injured on the field as much as it is for people hurt at work lifting a heavy box or having pain while playing with their children or grandchildren.”

Dr. Justin Yucht is on a mission to restore quality of life for all-level athletes, young adults, adults, and seniors with sports and occupational injuries; arthritis; back, neck, and joint pain; carpal tunnel syndrome; and other musculoskeletal and painful ailments. He is a primary care sports medicine physician and a physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) specialist, which makes him uniquely qualified to tackle both complex cases and common physical impairments.

“I’m a problem-solver. My goal is to identify the root cause of people’s pain and impaired function,” he explains, “which helps me determine the best path to returning them to a fulfilling and active lifestyle.”

Before he became a physician, Justin studied visual arts and biology. But he discovered his true passion in medical school, where he found the PM&R/physiatry rotations to be the most engaging. “There was nothing that brought me as much joy as being able to restore or preserve quality of life for patients,” he states. He completed his physiatry residency training at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, followed by subspecialty sports medicine fellowship training at Crozer-Keystone, one of the first of such programs in the country. When he added sports medicine to his credentials, he became part of a small group of specialists uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat complex cases.

“I want to make sure that my patients have a good understanding of what’s going on with them so that they engage with the treatment plan,” he states, and he notes that this is part of why he takes the time to teach his patients about their conditions and to answer any questions they have.

A Bergen County native, Justin wanted to raise his family and practice medicine in North Jersey. He chose Vanguard for its collaborative approach, its focus on the whole patient, and its dedication to expanding the role of community-centered outreach for local sports programs.

When he is not working, Justin stays active with his wife and two young children. He enjoys drawing, cooking, reading, music, and traveling.

Manish V. Bhalodia, MD, FACC

VMG Cardiologist Helps Patients Improve Quality of Life

“I’m an advocate for a healthy lifestyle in the treatment of heart disease. Diet, sleep and exercise are part of the regimen.”

From vegetarian cooking to practicing mindfulness, Dr. Manish Bhalodia tries lifestyle changes that he subsequently suggests to his patients. “I try it first, because if I can’t do it or it’s not effective, then it doesn’t make sense to tell my patients about it.”

It’s a hands-on approach that Dr. Bhalodia finds helpful in inspiring change. “Lifestyle goes hand in hand with cardiology,” he says. “Healthy habits can reduce the need for more invasive and/or expensive treatments.”

Dr. Bhalodia treats such issues as congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, valvular heart disease, heart attack, coronary artery disease and syncope (fainting). Patients enjoy the comfortable atmosphere and the nonintimidating conversations he creates. He wants patients to be able to talk frankly about their concerns. “Sometimes that includes stresses in their lives that may be impacting their health,” he says.

He joined Vanguard to be part of a groundbreaking movement in value-based care. “I feel there is a lot to be gained by the synergy between a cardiologist and primary care physicians,” he notes. “Ultimately, it benefits the patient to have well-coordinated care.”

Helping others has been a focus of Dr. Bhalodia’s since he was in middle school, when he first envisioned his future career. The idea of alleviating human suffering was quite powerful to him, even at that young age. Due to his strong conviction about access to quality health care, he chose to forgo joining his father’s thriving accounting practice in favor of becoming a physician.

“During residency, cardiology was one of the toughest branches to understand and get selected for a fellowship,” he says. “To me, it was the most satisfying and gratifying feeling to be able to make a meaningful difference in a person’s quality of life. You can help save somebody from the brink of a catastrophic situation.”

When he is not working, Dr. Bhalodia enjoys reading, practicing yoga, and playing tennis, table tennis and cricket. He also enjoys traveling and exploring different cultures with his wife and twin sons.