The chair of surgery at Staten Island University Hospital details his program’s multi-disciplinary synergy, and what breakthroughs are on the surgical horizon

by Jessica Jones-Gorman • Photos By Amessé Photography

In his role as chair of surgery at Staten Island University Hospital (SIUH), one of Dr. Michael O. Bernstein’s priorities is being briefed on every one of its 18,000 yearly surgical cases.

“Two of the pillars this hospital is built on are quality and safety,” Dr. Bernstein noted. “And both come from a combination of communication, collaboration, and cooperation among all members of the staff. A big part of that collaboration is a series of weekly conferences during which every case is discussed.”

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It’s a multi disciplinary approach that, in addition to surgeons, includes oncologists, pathologists, genetic specialists, and nurse navigators.

“And that’s just for breast surgery,” Dr. Bernstein said. “We have these conferences with all of our departments,” explaining that they are part of a three-fold approach to management that he has been working on since his appointment in April.

“Quality of care and patient safety are our main goals,” he said. “But we are also placing focus on the expansion of our education program for residents. Our third focal point is dedication to providing service with a patient-focused approach.”

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Bernstein additionally aims to raise awareness within the borough about the expansive programs SIUH has to offer.

“The reason why I came to this hospital is because it is a premier institution on Staten Island that provides an extensive breadth of services,” Dr. Bernstein said. “My goal is to increase the awareness of that status here in the borough and beyond.”

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A New Jersey native, who earned his medical degree from Penn State University in 1983, Bernstein moved to Staten Island after completing his surgical residency at the Kings County Hospital/State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Medical Center in 1988. Board certified in general surgery since 1989, his areas of expertise include abdominal, breast, and hernia surgery.

“I think surgery was just my destiny,” he said. “Even during my youth I was interested in medicine and would read books about it. People called me ‘Doc’ before I was a teenager. And even though I drove my mother crazy by taking things apart and putting them back together, I think those were my surgical roots. I built things with my father and would tinker with every tool in the garage. I also got a job renovating kitchens when I was younger, and think all of those hands-on experiences contributed to my eventual role. I was just lucky enough to find I had the skill set to apply it to medicine once I started school.”

As a young adult, Bernstein read The Making of a Surgeon (Random House, 1970) by William Nolen, which inspired him to become involved in teaching. He currently holds the rank of clinical associate professor of surgery at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, where he has been involved in its surgical residency training program for 30 years and has won numerous awards for teaching. He recently received the Center’s Residents’ Faculty Teaching Award and the Lifetime Service Award for “unwavering service and leadership.” He also served as chair of surgery at Richmond University Medical Center and also worked at Long Island College Hospital before coming to SIUH.

“I enjoy working here because this is where I Iive,” he noted. “Here, I am able to provide care to my surrounding community, and that is very fulfilling.”

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SIUH’s department of surgery currently employs 32 full-time surgeons and a voluntary staff of private practice surgeons. It provides care in numerous operating rooms, including suites in the Heart Tower and the on-site Center for Ambulatory Surgery. Its array of services includes Surgical Oncology, Bariatric Surgery, Plastic, Reconstructive and Hand Surgery, Microsurgery, Vascular Surgery, and General Thoracic Surgery. The department has trained graduates of medical schools like NYU, Albany Medical School, Cornell University, Tulane, Tufts, Creighton, Chicago Medical School, and the University of Florida, and more than two-thirds of the graduates of the surgical training program have sought and obtained post-graduate specialty fellowships at institutions such as the Yale New Haven Medical Center, the Beth Israel Hospital in New York City, and the University of Illinois in Chicago.

“We have four surgical complexes that encompass 35 operating rooms at two campuses covering a broad spectrum of disciplines,” Bernstein said, including minimally invasive and robotic surgical procedures.

“Incisions have gone from big to small, and minimally invasive procedures continue to progress throughout all disciplines—vascular, breast, even general surgery,” said Bernstein. “The addition of robotics allows physicians to perform even more extensive procedures,” adding that there are more advances on the horizon.

“We have a strategic plan in place for the creation of a hybrid OR with all of the most modern equipment and sophisticated imaging,” said Bernstein. “It will allow us to perform all the latest procedures, especially for vascular patients. The enterprise of medicine has changed so much during my career. This is a very rewarding and challenging job, and this opportunity at SIUH has energized me tremendously. To work collaboratively with such a wonderful team and with so many great leaders is both fulfilling and exciting.”

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Staten Island University Hospital
475 Seaview Avenue / 718.226.9000 / siuh.edu