Debora Geller, MD

Allergist Takes a Preventive Approach to Seasonal and Food Allergies, Skin Conditions and Asthma

“Allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S. and the most common health issue affecting children; as allergists, there is a lot we can do.”

Dr. Debora Geller has managed the challenges patients face caused by environmental allergies, asthma, atopic dermatitis or eczema, hives and other skin allergies, food allergies, medication allergies and more. “Allergies can severely impact one’s ability to function” she said. “Yet there is a lot we can do to relieve those symptoms—and even prevent them in the future.” Trained in pediatric and adult allergy, asthma and immunology, Dr. Geller has helped countless patients with focused, personalized approaches to manage their allergy symptoms on a daily basis.

Helping others is a calling for Dr. Geller, and has been since she was very young. At just six years of age, she aspired to follow in the footsteps of her pediatrician, a woman who formed a strong connection with her. After medical school, she completed a residency in general pediatrics, then a fellowship in pediatric and adult allergy, asthma and immunology.

Dr. Geller traditionally sees patients who require more intensive allergy care than what is available over-the-counter or by their primary care physicians.  “These may be patients with moderate or severe cases that need a higher level of treatment,” she said. “My goal is to keep them healthy and functioning.”

Dr. Geller chose to work at Vanguard for its preventative and collaborative care approach. She noted, “It makes for better patient care, when the medical team works together with a similar focus.” Dr. Geller’s caring and personalized medical approach has earned her such awards as NJ Monthly Top Doctor, Castle Connolly Top Doctor and the Top Doctor for Children.

When she’s not working, Dr. Geller enjoys traveling and learning about different cultures. She is an athlete and enjoys cycling and skiing. She stays active with her husband, also a physician, and three kids. She has a rescue Shih-Tzu named Sandy.

Simone A. Dougé, MD

Treating the Whole Patient in Family Medicine

“The best doctors go beyond the physical ailments in front of them and get to know the whole patient, where they come from, and what’s important to them.”

Dr. Simone Dougé witnessed the power of a caring physician when she was just a child. At the time, her grandfather was dying from cancer. “I remember vividly the respect that my family had for his doctors,” she said, “and the comfort that they provided him at the time.” It was that early formative experience that inspired her career as a primary care physician.

While she was completing her residency in family medicine, she observed the same caring approach that she remembered. “These were doctors who were treating the whole patient, not just going by the lab numbers,” she said. “They took the time to really listen, to find out who the patient was and what was important to him or her, in addition to treating the patient medically. It made for better quality of life.”

Dr. Dougé completed a residency in primary care and a fellowship in palliative medicine. She brings both areas of specialty to Vanguard, where she treats patients from infants to the elderly.

She prides herself on taking a personalized approach to patient care. Her patients tell her that she’s thorough and really listens. She also takes the time to follow up with a phone call when appropriate. “Over the years, I observed family members who didn’t understand what the doctor prescribed or didn’t get their questions answered,” she said. “That’s why I try my best to give thorough explanations. I want to make sure my patients leave the office feeling empowered and ‘heard.’”

When she’s not working, Dr. Dougé enjoys cooking, baking and exercising, especially high-intensity interval training (HIIT). On her “bucket list” is a trip abroad for a medical mission.

Kristina Conklin, PA-C

Kristina Conklin Builds Relationships for Better Health

“Preventive care is the cornerstone of primary care. As providers, the greatest role that we have is to educate our patients and promote wellness.”

 Kristina Conklin’s first job after college wasn’t the perfect fit. But it was the inspiration for her lifelong calling. “I was working as a medical technologist behind the scenes in a hospital, and I missed the patient interaction,” she says. “I started volunteering on a different floor to be able to talk with patients and realized that’s what I wanted to do.” She applied to a physician assistant program and now enjoys forming those special relationships every day.

From the beginning, Kristina knew she wanted to work in primary care. “I enjoy getting to know my patients, learning about their family life and their challenges, and educating them about wellness. When you build relationships over time, you can provide continuous, comprehensive care. That’s what really draws me in—being able to make a real difference in their health and well-being.”

Kristin inspires confidence with her thorough approach. She takes the time to really listen to her patients and understand their perspective. The dialogue goes both ways; Kristin also spends time explaining her recommendations and educating patients about their illness and preventive care. “I encourage my patients to keep up on their immunizations and exams,” she says. “An asymptomatic patient who might show early warning signs of a disease is a lot easier to effectively treat than someone who is chronically ill.”

When she’s not working, Kristina enjoys spending time with her family. She also enjoys reading, traveling, and playing volleyball.

Peter Heit, MD

Gastroenterology Specialist Peter Heit Gets to the ‘Gut’ of the Problem

“I take an old-fashioned approach to clinical exams. We talk first in my office, and again afterward. It’s a more comfortable encounter and you learn so much more.”

From an early age, Peter Heit knew his future career. In fact, at his sixth-grade graduation, he wrote down that he was going to be a doctor. “Back then, there were not too many outlets for kids who liked the sciences,” he says. “It was research or medicine, and I knew that I wanted to take care of people.”

He received a full scholarship to attend Boston University and got accepted into medical school during his sophomore year. That allowed him to take graduate and undergraduate courses concurrently, and fit in some medical research. He ruled out the other specialties and chose gastroenterology/hepatology because the specialty featured interesting procedures and had the potential to build longstanding patient relationships.

The relationships are especially important to him. “Every visit starts with a conversation in my office,” he says. “I want to make it as comfortable as possible, to allay any concerns and to find out how I can help.” Then he examines the patient in the exam room.  Finally, they meet back in the office to discuss the findings and put together a plan. “Sometimes, we focus on self-management; other times we  recommend procedures or medication. Importantly, this is a plan that evolves over time as part of continuity of care.”

Preventive care, including colonoscopy screening, is a large part of his focus. “I help my patients get past the stigma and embarrassment of this test, and understand how powerful a colonoscopy is in helping them live longer, healthier lives.” In addition, Peter treats the full spectrum of gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, abdominal pains, reflux, Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, and stress-related gastroenterological issues. “The enteric nervous system is second only to the brain in complexity,” he says, “and so there are quite a number of potential gastrointestinal issues.”

When he’s not working, he enjoys going to the theater with his wife. He also is a skilled clock maker and has made over 100 clocks.

Sung Tae Kim, MD

Dr. Sung Tae Kim Values Time with Patients

“A lot of times, patients can have anxiety when meeting a new provider. I try to make it easier by getting to know them. I give them the opportunity to talk, and I listen. Then, I can truly understand their concerns, and provide the comprehensive care that will keep them healthy.”

Dr. Kim is motivated by many things, but one in particular surfaces often in conversation—and that’s service to others. It’s why he’s made it a point to join medical missions traveling to some of the world’s underserved areas, from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to Tecate, Mexico; San Pedro Sula, Honduras; and Penang, Malaysia. He found that medicine provides him with the chance to make a real difference. “To be in a place where you can help others is a tremendous blessing,” he says.

He chose family medicine because he wanted to be involved in community care. At the heart of his practice are his patient relationships. Dr. Kim places tremendous value on building on those relationships and truly understanding his patients physically, psychologically and socially. “I value the time that I spend with my patients,” he says. “They can talk about private matters that they may not even discuss with their spouses. When you have that deep understanding, it makes a difference in the care that you can provide.”

Dr. Kim works with his patients for a mutual understanding of what’s important to do to maintain good health. “I can’t expect patients to change 10 different things in one visit, but I can start them in the right direction for preventive care,” he says.

He chose Vanguard Medical Group because of its patient-first, personalized approach that mirrored his own approach to healthcare. “Vanguard Medical Group provides a platform where I’m able to use up-to-date medical knowledge and today’s technology in caring for patients. Importantly, the process is dynamic, and can conform to patients’ needs. The patient always comes first.”

When he’s not working, Dr. Kim enjoys traveling, hiking, playing golf and spending time with family. From time to time, he also assists his father with the family’s agricultural business.

Stern, Alyse, PA-C

Alyse Stern Believes Treating Entire Families Helps Treat Each Individual

“Treating entire families is a special opportunity where you see the whole rather than only part of the picture.”

Alyse Stern started her career in a genetic testing lab, but was not totally fulfilled. “Although the experience was invaluable, I recognized early on that I needed to connect with people, and family medicine would allow me to work directly with patients,” says Alyse. “I wanted to care for whole families. I recognized that individual family members could provide insight and history that would greatly enhance patient and health care provider relationships, and result in improved quality care.”

For over a decade, Alyse has been enjoying the continuity of care and trust that develops between individuals and family members, and their health care providers. She finds it rewarding when her patients refer friends and other family members. “My patients inspire me every day, and for me it’s the icing on the cake when someone comes into the office and asks for me,” she says.

Alyse joined Vanguard in 2004 as a physician assistant and, under the guidance of a medical doctor, provides a variety of services to patients, including annual physicals, wellness checkups, diagnoses, medication management, blood pressure screenings, inoculations and vaccinations.

She’s also a certified Department of Transportation medical examiner, one of the few in New Jersey. This allows her to conduct the detailed physicals required for bus and truck drivers with commercial drivers’ licenses.

When she’s off the clock, Alyse is a busy mom who enjoys cooking, baking and spending time with family and friends.

Smith, Stephanie, MD

Patients Inspire Dr. Smith Every Day

“The best care evolves from trusting relationships built over time.”

Dr. Stephanie Smith chose family medicine because it was “the package deal,” where she had the chance to do it all. “In medical school, we have the opportunity to rotate through each specialty area to see which we like best,” she explains. “I enjoyed every aspect of every rotation, from pediatrics to surgery to OB/GYN.”

Now at Vanguard, she’s developing the trusting relationships with her patients that are the foundation of great medical care. “Perhaps because I’m a woman, I see a lot of female patients,” she notes. “They tell me that they feel more comfortable talking to me about female problems. I really enjoy helping my patients, getting them through crises and making sure they’re doing all they can to stay healthy. It’s what motivates me to come to work every day.”

With a master’s degree in public health, Dr. Smith maintains a strong focus on preventive care and wellness. “Sometimes you’ll be able to prevent something before it becomes a bigger issue,” she says. “A great example is a mammogram. If we can screen more women, we can help catch cancer at its earliest stages.”

Dr. Smith was an All-American athlete growing up, and played soccer while at Columbia. When she’s not working, she enjoys introducing her young children to sports and spending time with her husband and family.

Sivaraju, Kannan, M.D.

Dr. Kannan Sivaraju Makes House Calls for Good Health

“Our Home Care program offers two major advantages to our homebound patients: It gives them the personalized and comprehensive care they need while still being covered under primary care. That means it’s good for their health and for their pocketbooks.”

The first physician in his family, Dr. Kannan Sivaraju had always been interested in health care. When it came time to choose a career, it was a natural step to pursue medicine. He chose internal medicine because it is interesting and challenging.

“It’s very rewarding when you figure out the diagnosis and cure the disease,” he says, “and also help patients improve their quality of life.”

Dr. Sivaraju earned a certification in geriatrics to better understand the unique issues faced by his older patients. He works frequently with patients in the Home Care program, which means he makes house calls. Regular care at home helps patients avoid unnecessary admissions to the emergency room. “These are patients who have difficulty coming to the office,” he says. “They may be elderly and chronically ill. Importantly, we do more than simply see them and prescribe medication. We’re able to perform many of the services typically found in the office, such as blood work and other diagnostic tests, including Doppler ultrasound and echocardiograms.” The team also can refer patients to hospice care, a home health aide service or wound care at home.

Dr. Sivaraju enjoys the autonomy that comes from working in a physician-led practice rather than one dictated by a hospital. “The benefits to the patient are tremendous,” he says. “There are virtually no delays in patient care. Patients or caregivers can get in touch with us through the web portal or via phone. If they need a refill on medication, or if they want to schedule a same-day visit, they can do that easily. We also respond right away to patient messages. We work to deliver high patient satisfaction.”

When he’s not working, Dr. Sivaraju enjoys watching movies or dining out with his family at local restaurants.

Pavan Sharma, RDN, CDCES

Pavan Sharma Helps Patients Harness Their Inner Strength to Make Lifestyle Changes Through Diet and Exercise

“The absolute best moment that I have in my job is when I connect with someone about his or her struggle with diabetes and my client will say, ‘Nobody ever told me that.’ It’s that moment that can be life changing – and lifesaving with diabetes.”

You might say that Pavan Sharma has a personal vendetta against diabetes. Her mother-in-law died from complications of the disease at an early age. At the time, Pavan wasn’t a full-fledged medical professional and was not aware of the profound effect that diet has on diabetes. Yet the early passing of a loved one inspired her to find out more about the disease. “I discovered that Indians are at a greater risk for diabetes,” she notes. “Most of my clients think that the U.S. has the highest population of people with diabetes and are surprised to find that India and China surpass the U.S. in the number of people living with diabetes per capita overall. And it definitely runs in families.”

Pavan is a registered dietitian and a certified diabetes educator, with a Master of Science in nutrition from the College of Saint Elizabeth. She also holds a certificate in adult weight management from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Her diabetes education program, “Simply Carb Counting,” has been approved by the American Association of Diabetes Educators.

Pavan counsels her patients about making smart food choices and adding physical activity to help them live longer and healthier lives. In addition to one-on-one visits, Pavan runs a diabetes self-management program in Vanguard’s Verona office. Patients tell her that they find her encouraging, helpful and well-informed, with realistic resolutions to issues that come up in diabetes management. “New patients may arrive nervous, thinking they may have to give up all their favorite foods, but they’ll give me a hug when they leave,” she says. “That’s when I know that I’ve connected with them.”

Importantly, Pavan provides patients with the information they need so they can make their own decisions about their health with confidence. “It’s the lifestyle changes that have to be made,” she notes. “How many minutes are there in a year? Of those, you see your doctor probably just a few minutes two, three, maybe four times during that year. But you live with diabetes every minute of every day. You’re the one who is really going to manage it. Your doctor and your team are there to support you.”

A sincere yoga follower since the age of 16, Pavan is up at 4:45 a.m. each day to do yoga. She eats a vegetarian diet and makes her own yogurt from organic milk. She also enjoys gardening and growing her own vegetables.

Moscato, Michele, DO

Dr. Michele Moscato Puts Patients at Ease with Conversation

“If you can’t talk to your doctor about something that is on your mind, there is a good possibility that something will be overlooked and missed.”

Dr. Michele Moscato wanted a career in the health care field from the time she was very young. “I can remember talking about being a doctor as a child,” says Dr. Moscato. “I had a strong interest in biological sciences and I had support, especially from one of my high school teachers who mentored and encouraged me to see my goal and go for it.”

Family medicine was the specialty area that was the draw for her, which can be partly attributed to a personal event. According to Dr. Moscato, “When a member of my family developed dementia, I saw firsthand the overwhelming challenges my family experienced trying to deal with the treatment and care of our loved one, which was new to all of us. We were initially lost in the woods.” She decided to take from that experience and put herself in a position armed with knowledge so she could offer her patients counsel and direction that would make their health care journey a little easier.

Dr. Moscato completed her residency at Hackensack University Medical Center-Mountainside (now Mountainside/UHMC Hospital) in family medicine. After her residency, she was asked to join the hospital as a faculty physician and assistant director in women’s health. “Women’s health was and remains an interest of mine, but I also like variety, and family medicine allows me to treat all ages and all genders,” she says. “At Vanguard Medical Group, I get the opportunity to do that every day.”

Vanguard is a patient-centered medical home where the patient comes first and the staff takes a team-based approach to provide quality health care. Dr. Moscato notes that one of the most important actions that she takes during every visit is to listen to, and talk with, her patients. Communication is crucial. “Taking that extra time to talk with my patients puts them at ease so they are more apt to open up and share their questions or concerns, and oftentimes the things discussed offer clues to their health,” she says.

In her spare time, Dr. Moscato enjoys traveling with her husband, especially locally to neighboring states. She is an animal lover and finds time to volunteer with animal adoption agencies.