Meet 3 of Atlanta’s Top Doctors

What they wish they’d been taught in med school, how they feel about the Affordable Care Act, and more
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Atlanta's Top Doctors 2016 Best doctors in Atlanta
Anitra Graves, MD and Eugene Gabianelli, MD

Anitra Graves, M.D., pulmonary disease
Chief of critical care services at Northside Hospital-Cherokee

What do you like—and not like—about the Affordable Care Act?
I like the consumer protections that it has given patients, particularly those with illnesses that are difficult to treat. To have the confidence that you can have coverage and the money won’t run out is an important protection. I also think that [patients who have] a preexisting illness should have access to health insurance. I don’t like that the government essentially made the plans unaffordable for a lot of people, not enough of whom know about or take advantage of the subsidies.

What’s one thing you wish they had told you in med school?
That our pay isn’t based on a 40-hour work week. I work probably 80 to 90 hours a week. That the rules would change as we went along in our careers. And the amount of sacrifice that physicians have to make. Medical school is just the beginning when it comes to the hours, the toll that it takes on other aspects of your life.

What’s the best thing about being a doctor?
I remember there was a patient who had tried to commit suicide, and he had multiple organ failure as a result. It was horrible. It didn’t look like he was going to ever return back to normal. It was actually the sixth time in a year that he had attempted suicide. His parents were just exhausted with worry. And not only did he recover but through that whole ordeal he really gained an appreciation for life. It turned his entire life around. It took us six weeks plus another hospital stay to get him well, but he has not ever attempted suicide since. He calls us and updates us every once in a while. Cases like that make it all worth it.

How did you pick your specialty?
I was very impressed with my instructors—their breadth of knowledge, their ability to coordinate care across other specialties. And then once I started down the path and completed my residency, it just confirmed that that’s what I wanted to do. I tried doing dermatology once, and it just bored me to tears.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a doctor?
I would be a computer hacker. Why? I could work from anywhere, I could break the rules, and still get paid.

Eugene Gabianelli, M.D., ophthalmology
Founder and medical director of Georgia Eye Partners
Chief of ophthalmology at Emory St. Joseph’s

What do you like—and not like—about the Affordable Care Act?
I do like the idea of policy that tries to get a greater number of Americans covered by healthcare. That said, nothing is perfect, and some patients get enrolled in plans and they don’t really understand what their responsibilities are. There’s some question as to whether those policies are good if people can’t afford the deductible. These patients may not have had health insurance ever, or in a long time, and insurance is so much more complicated than it used to be. They’re often not prepared for everything they have to navigate and pay for.

What’s one thing you wish they had told you in med school?
On the positive side, I don’t think that I sensed in medical school what a joy it would be to really help patients, to see a happy outcome. To some extent, I’m more excited about the field now than when I was in school. And I know that’s probably a different answer than you get from a lot of doctors. Being able to do LASIK, cataract surgery, and see immediate results, it’s more rewarding than I would have anticipated. On the flip side, the effort and attention to business that’s required in running a private practice is way more than I understood or anticipated or had training for. It’s essentially like having two jobs: you’re a physician and you’re a small business owner.

What’s the best thing about being a doctor?
Early on in my career, when I saw my friends out in the business world having weekends off and making good salaries, while I was wrapped up in debt, that was a little more disheartening. I didn’t really feel the tangible benefits of it. Now that I’ve been doing it for 25 years, the rewards of helping people every day, it’s really a tangible thing. As an ophthalmologist, the benefits are very objective in terms of somebody that saw at this level, and now they see at this level, and you can measure it and see it in the satisfaction of the patient.

How did you pick your specialty?
I was in my second year of med school at Washington University in St. Louis, and I was getting a little worried, because I didn’t love a lot of the stuff. Then we had a professor who came in and gave a lecture about ophthalmology. He showed a whole bunch of pictures of retinas and corneas and it was like a light bulb went off. I thought, that’s really cool. It was so visual. In the eye, you can pretty much see the disease. You’re not looking at an X-ray or blood work; it’s a very visual thing. That aspect really appealed to me. And then when I looked into it a little further, and found out you could mix surgery and clinic, so you’re not doing the same thing every day—it cinched it.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a doctor?
I dream of being an author. I’ve actually started two novels, both murder mysteries. One is about an ophthalmologist from Italy who gets murdered while attending the national ophthalmology meeting in Chicago. I’ve written about 100 pages of each one. Right now I don’t have time to finish them, and I’m not entirely sure I have the skill to finish them. But if I had a year off, I’d like to dive in and try to get them done.

Atlanta Top Doctors 2016
Joon Ahn, MD

Joon Ahn, M.D., cardiac electrophysiology
Northeast Georgia Medical Center

What do you like—and not like—about the Affordable Care Act?
The accessibility is certainly an important factor. It’s expanded healthcare to people who couldn’t previously afford it. The thing that I don’t like is that some of the regulations passed down on Medicare make it a little bit harder to deliver care, and those are the majority of our patients. Some are still falling into that doughnut hole, and they can’t afford a lot of the newer drugs.

What’s one thing you wish they had told you in med school?
That medicine is a demanding, 24/7 kind of profession. It takes a lot from your personal life. You’re always working. Negotiating work-life balance is not something that they really talk about in school. I have three kids who are 11, 9, and 5, and it can be tough.

What’s the best thing about being a doctor?
Just the gratification of helping sick people and seeing them get better or even cured. There are treatments that we do, ablation therapy treatments, on patients who have really disabling arrhythmias. They are affected by it on a daily basis. And when we take them to the lab and essentially cure these issues, their lives are returned to normal.

How did you pick your specialty?
When I was a resident in St. Louis, I was doing a rotation in cardiology, and I was taking care of a patient who had an arrhythmia. And I remember the electrophysiologist came in and showed me what he did. I had never even heard of this specialty up until then. And it was fascinating.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a doctor?
In undergrad, I originally studied to become an engineer. Let’s just say I switched to medicine partly due to parental influence. My dad’s a physician, and they really pushed me and my siblings to go into the medical field.

More Top Docs Our July 2016 Top Doctors issue is on newsstands now. Check back in early July for the complete online list.

Photographs by Ben Rollins; Hair/Makeup by Amy George

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