Comprehensive Breast Center

From Mann About Town, September 2007 Issue

Healing the Patient, Nurturing the Soul

Standing glamorous at 5' 4'' tall, with a long blonde mane of curls, a dry wit, a catching energy and a smile to match, Dr. Sharon Rosenbaum Smith doesn't fit the description one might typically give an accomplished breast cancer surgeon.

Indeed, surgeon is just one of the many roles Dr. Rosenbaum Smith plays on a daily basis. When she steps off the train after a long day's work and heads to her home on the North Shore of Long Island to be with her husband of 14 years, Brian, an attorney, and her two children, Justin, 7, and Samantha, 3, she shifts naturally into caring wife and nurturing mother mode.

As one of the most widely respected breast cancer surgeons and surgical oncologists in New York City, her list of credentials and accomplishments is long. She is an Attending in the Department of Surgery at Mount Sinai St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, Medical Director of the Hospital's Comprehensive Breast Clinic, Co-Director of Mount Sinai St. Luke's-Roosevelt and Beth Israel Medical Center's Breast Fellowship Program and an Instructor of Clinical Surgery at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons . She's even found the time to author numerous medical peer review journal articles and appear on local and national television programs, informing people of various breast cancer-related issues.

October marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but for Dr. Rosenbaum Smith eradicating breast cancer is all in a day's work. To the estimated 216,000 women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 alone (that's one every three minutes, according to the American Cancer Society), surgeons like Dr. Rosenbaum Smith are more than just doctors. They're saviors, partners, future makers and friends for life. For Dr. Rosenbaum Smith, it was this life-long bond with patients that was the driving force for her to become a breast cancer surgeon.

"I wanted to do more than just treat patients on a case by case basis - I wanted to be able to form a long-term relationship with them - be part of their lives," she says. "As a breast cancer surgeon, I'm able to do that."

Growing up as a young girl in Queens, just a few blocks from her future husband, Dr. Rosenbaum Smith always knew she wanted to become a doctor. She was the first person in her family to ever express an interest in medicine. She received her medical degree from New York Medical College in Valhalla, New York and then completed her general surgery residency in 1999 at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York. With that solid groundwork, she was able to tailor her career to specialize in breast cancer. She conducted her fellowship in breast surgery at New York Presbyterian Hospital / New York Weill Cornell Medical Center and her successful career in breast surgery soon followed.

Since joining Mount Sinai St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in 2000, she has played an important role in developing the curriculum and philosophy of the hospital's Comprehensive Breast Center. While state-of-the-art diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer are the hallmark of its services, the Breast Center takes things a step further. It also offers innovative support programs that are designed to engage the mind, body and spirit in the healing process. Support groups for breast cancer patients, meditation and yoga classes, stress management workshops and more are offered to patients free of charge - for life. These workshops have played a huge role in alleviating stress in breast cancer patients.

Dr. Rosenbaum Smith infuses an appropriate lightheartedness into each situation that helps raise patients' spirits and revitalize their souls. While a visit to a breast surgeon's office can be nerve wracking, her warmth and humor help patients feel comfortable in even the most uncomfortable of circumstances. This is what they revere most.

"My philosophy as a doctor and the goal of these programs at the Comprehensive Breast Center is not just to treat the disease, but to treat the whole patient, the whole person," adds Dr. Rosenbaum Smith. "It's about the patient's mind, her well-being and her family's well-being. I want my patients to be comfortable and really know that I'm there for them throughout this entire process, to help them with any obstacles they encounter."

As the Medical Director of Mount Sinai St. Luke's Roosevelt's Comprehensive Breast Clinic, which provides medical care to underinsured people, Dr. Rosenbaum Smith has learned about these obstacles first-hand. For these patients, two of the biggest obstacles are financial issues and language barriers. In her seven years overseeing the Breast Clinic, Dr. Rosenbaum Smith has realized the impact that alleviating some of these stresses has on patients.

In 2006 Dr. Rosenbaum Smith launched a new program called the "Patient Navigator" through a generous grant from The Komen Foundation. This new program is designed to assist Spanish-speaking women in navigating the complexities of the healthcare system, which include many layers when dealing with the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Through the Patient Navigator program, a bilingual woman on staff is available to help patients through every step of the process, from attending appointments and interpreting as needed, to helping handle phone calls regarding insurance questions and scheduling, and offering emotional support.

"Dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis is an extremely stressful process for anyone. Having a language barrier on top of the diagnosis as they try to decipher and maneuver through the complex healthcare system can be very hard on someone," said Dr. Rosenbaum Smith. "I try to do whatever I can to alleviate that stress and to make things easier on these patients and their families."

According to Dr. Rosenbaum Smith, one of the most important things a doctor can bring to the table is empathy - understanding the individual needs of the patient and filling those needs accordingly. And while some may be caught off guard by her youthful appearance or down-to-earth demeanor, it's Dr. Rosenbaum Smith's light-heartedness that resonates most with a lot of patients, young and old.

Personalizing treatment to meet the individual needs of each patient, she says, is one of her top priorities. Young patients in particular have a number of additional obstacles to consider, such as how their breast cancer treatment may affect their ability to have children. For younger patients who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer and hope to start a family in the future, this is a very real concern. In scenarios like this, Dr. Rosenbaum Smith goes above and beyond to inform patients of the realities of the situation and the various options available to them. In doing so, she's able to instill a great deal of comfort and optimism in patients that there is, in fact, a silver lining.

As a mother herself, Dr. Rosenbaum Smith understands the importance of family all to well. In her office, amidst the organized stacks of books and patient files, are pictures of her kids and drawings they've made for her. For Dr. Rosenbaum Smith, her kids are her favorite pastime. While she and her husband are kept busy most weekdays - in his case as a partner in his busy New York law firm, in her case treating patients and saving lives - she saves evenings and weekends for her family. Some weekends are spent driving the kids to soccer, baseball, golf, tennis and gymnastics - and, of course, birthday parties. Other days they're off to the beach for a family outing or grilling out in the backyard with family and friends. Some nights it might just be staying in with a DVD. "Simple pleasures," she says, "makes it all worthwhile ."