Rhode Island Top Doctors 2020
Here are Rhode Island’s top physicians, as chosen by their peers, plus interviews with Dr. Leonard Mermel, Dr. Adetokunbo Oyelese and Dr. Ashley Stuckey.
Photography by Alex Gagne • Illustration by Daniel Pelavin
Q&A: Ashley Stuckey
Breast Cancer Surgery
You’ve wanted to be a doctor since you were a child. How did you choose this specialty?
I never had any other thoughts that I would do anything different. I am not only a breast cancer surgeon, I am also a gynecologic oncologist. I combine both specialties in taking care of women with cancer. I have always had an interest in women’s health, and this is a great way to combine my interest with the intellectual aspect of cancer.
What does your day-to-day look like?
I spend about half of my time taking care of gynecology patients and half taking care of breast cancer patients. Much of that is spent operating on these women and seeing them in the office. It’s unusual for a doctor to do both, as they are typically separate specialties. It has been great because I am very interested in female hereditary cancer syndrome. So, I can take care of my patients and be the one doctor that they see for their breast cancer or ovarian cancer problems and minimize the number of physicians they visit.
With breast cancer surgery, women have options. What are they?
The majority of women can undergo breast conservation, which means a lumpectomy. This is removing the cancer with some normal tissue around it. Alternatively, some women choose or may need additional surgery, which is a mastectomy. This is removing the entire breast. Breast cancer care has come a long way; many more women have the option of breast conservation. Ultimately, this is a good thing for them.
How many surgeries do you perform each week?
In total, about eight.
What is one thing you want your patients to know?
As the genetic field for hereditary syndromes of women’s cancers rapidly expands, I always urge patients, medical students and people I train to be aware of family history. There are a lot of women who may be at higher risk for some of these cancers that we are able to test for and, hopefully, prevent.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I love that I can take care of families. I can take care of moms, sisters and daughters when they have these genetic hereditary predispositions to cancer. It is a privilege to care for these women when they are going through such a vulnerable time. These are some of the strongest and most amazing women I have known and it is an inspiration to see them every day.
Q&A: Leonard Mermel
How has the coronavirus affected your workflow?
We wrote guides for pandemic planning at Lifespan a few years back when we were dealing with SARS and H1N1. I was fortunate to address the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine twice about pandemic planning for hospitals, specifically for respiratory viral infections. For the last few months, I have been spending most of my time working on preparedness for the Lifespan system. I continue to work closely with the Rhode Island Department of Health to align our efforts with theirs amid COVID-19.
As medical director of infection control, what infectious diseases have you dealt with the most?
Part of my job is seeing patients on our infectious disease consult service. As the medical director of infection control, I’m also responsible for curtailing the spread of germs in health care settings. What is amazing about Rhode Island Hospital is the diversity of our patient population. It brings in people from all walks of life and from all over the world. What is challenging, intellectually very gratifying and makes my life exciting when I see patients, is when I am on the infectious disease consult service, and I may see something I have never before. Because of all of the patients we serve, we see a vast number of infectious disease challenges that makes it stimulating and enjoyable to come in every day.
What advice of preventative measures would you offer patients to steer clear of infectious diseases?
Keep up with your vaccination schedule, whether it be pediatric or adult. Get enough sleep because it has an effect on immune function. Diet is also very important. Good personal hygiene includes frequent hand hygiene, particularly after contact with a high-touch surface. Avoid high-touch surfaces, like inside a bathroom, or use a barrier; a paper towel to open the door is ideal. In addition, stay at least six feet away from someone who has a transmissible illness and minimize exposure to them. If you are traveling outside of the country, you can check the CDC website to see what list of vaccines you may need. In the summer, we have a very high incidence of tickborne diseases in Rhode Island. So use insect repellent, wear long sleeves and look at the CDC website for other things you should be aware of.
What does a typical day-to-day look like?
It’s rarely the same from day to day. I do direct patient care, sometimes I am working on general infection control issues, other times I am mentoring people. Some of the time, I work on national and international guidelines on how to reduce risk of health care-associated infections. It is profoundly variable.
You’ve wanted to be a doctor since you were ten. Why did you gravitate to infectious disease?
My grandmother was hospitalized, and she was a very strong stabilizing factor in my youth. I told my mom and my grandmother I wanted to be a doctor so I could help people. I took a course in college on studying parasites and I really enjoyed it. Although I was an undergraduate, I was allowed to help teach the class. I went to public health school before medical school, and I took courses on epidemiology of infectious diseases. During my residency training, various fields of medicine interested me but I kept coming back to infectious disease. I did a rotation as a medical resident and found the greatest satisfaction in trying to figure out if someone had an infection, cancer, a rheumatological condition and more.
What aspects of your job keep you up at night?
On a local, regional and national level, staying a step ahead as much as humanly possible is on my mind when I go to sleep and wake up. Often I think of something in the middle of the night and wake up to write it down. I feel responsible in trying to mitigate risk to patients, staff and visitors and I have to go to bed every night knowing I have done everything I possibly can to do that.