Photograph by Becca Sabot
The 2017 Rising Stars
Left to right: Neurosurgeon Dr. Kyle Uittenbogaard, pediatric dermatologist Dr. Ingrid Polcari, pediatrician Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd, and vascular and endovascular surgeon Dr. Jesse Manunga, Jr.
Many doctors harbor lifelong ambitions to go into medicine, but few early adopters can beat Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. From the age of 5, she told others that she planned to be a pediatrician. Her dream of helping kids be healthy and thrive was inspired not only by her own childhood pediatrician but also by the time Goepferd spent caring for her sister and children she babysat. A college internship at a Minneapolis community health clinic sealed the deal and helped her define her career path.
“I got to work with so many different kinds of families, and I developed a passion not only for caring for kids’ health but for advocating for children and families, too,” she says. Today Goepferd is fulfilling that dream—caring for kids as a pediatrician while serving as director of graduate and continuing medical education for residents and physicians at Children’s. She also shapes best medical care practices for LGBTQ children and teens, trains other health care providers, and specializes in caring for such patients. As she notes, kids and teens who are LGBTQ face so many more health and mental health risks, from being bullied and abused to being rejected by their families and communities. “They need a health care provider who can have a conversation with them about the relationships they are in and how to keep themselves safe,” she says. “They need us to help them be resilient and advocate for them so they have safe schools and accepting families so they can live up to their full potential.”
“I love figuring out new ways of doing things that will be better than what’s out there. That’s what drives me.” —Dr. Jesse Manunga, Jr.
Discovering a Specialty
This yearning to help others is often a driving force for those who choose to practice medicine. However, the path that leads these professionals to their area of expertise can be anything but prescriptive. Dr. Ingrid Polcari, a pediatric dermatologist at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital was interested in pediatrics but hadn’t planned on her specialty when she began her journey. She embarked on a pediatrics residency at Northwestern University in Illinois and quickly became fascinated by pediatric dermatology.
“I just fell in love with [it]. You get to have great interactions with your patients and see them get better and mature and grow up,” says Polcari. “I’m a very visual person, and it’s really amazing to be able to see a problem with your eyes and come to a conclusion about what you’re seeing based on nuanced, subtle differences. Then you can really make a difference with how to treat it so you can help a child be much healthier.”
But heading down this road meant committing to extra training and time. After completing her first residency, Polcari finished a second one in dermatology, followed by a pediatric dermatology fellowship. Pediatric dermatology is a small but growing field, as more physicians complete pediatric dermatology fellowships following their residency training. Polcari says she’s glad she has full training in both areas. It helps her provide excellent care for kids while giving her the expertise to treat medically complex children seen at the U of M.
Polcari finds many aspects of her work fulfilling, including serving as associate director of the dermatology residency program at the U of M. She helps train the dermatologists and pediatricians who will serve on the front lines of caring for children and teens with skin conditions. “There are only a few pediatric dermatologists in the Twin Cities, and they need to know when they can treat kids themselves or when they need to send them to a specialty center,” she says. “I try to mentor them in the value of a great physician-patient relationship and how to accomplish a procedure on a child without tears or discomfort. It takes some experience and special tactics to make that happen.”
More than anything, she enjoys caring for children and their skin troubles—from the routine to the rare. She loves to put kids at ease and help them feel better. She couldn’t be happier with her choice of specialty, knowing she makes a huge difference for her patients and their families.
“Skin disease is something that has a major impact on kids and truly can affect their quality of life. If a child has severe eczema, they aren’t sleeping at night, the parents aren’t sleeping, and [the kids] aren’t able to pay attention at school,” she says. “To help that child by helping their skin, that’s truly gratifying. Their self-esteem is better and their confidence is back. That’s a job well done.”
Other physicians discover a passion for medicine after a meaningful experience sends them on an unexpected path. That was the case for Dr. Jesse Manunga Jr., a vascular and endovascular surgeon at Abbott Northwestern Hospital’s Minneapolis Heart Institute. He was working toward an electrical and computer engineering degree at University of California, Los Angeles, when a friend encouraged him to volunteer at a local hospital. Watching brilliant doctors in action fascinated Manunga, and he became intrigued by medicine.
From the first few days of medical school, Manunga didn’t want to share the scalpel with other students and realized surgery was the place for him. Then a relative endured a difficult open surgical repair for an aneurysm, a dangerous weakening and bulging of an artery. Manunga became inspired to find a better solution. Though the road to becoming a surgeon is five to seven years long, he extended it farther by completing a fellowship in vascular surgery, which focuses on the body’s blood vessels.
Patients see him for aneurysms and conditions like aortic dissections, a life-threatening tear in the middle layers of the aorta. This condition can be treated medically or through extensive surgery, which leads to a months-long recovery. Manunga thrives on the challenge of finding safer, less invasive surgical procedures that help patients recover much faster and with better results.
Neurosurgeon Dr. KyleUittenbogaard is pretty straightforward about his chosen path: “I went into neurosurgery to help patients that really need a doctor the most.”
By the time patients come to see Uittenbogaard the situation is often serious. They’ve been diagnosed with a brain or spinal cord tumor, or they are experiencing excruciating facial pain from a condition called trigeminal neuralgia, where a blood vessel presses on a cranial nerve. Helping patients on the road to recovery by removing their tumors or relieving their pain are the best parts of his job.
“It’s a really powerful experience to be one-on-one with a child and family, and feel like you’re really impacting their life.” —Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd
“We take care of pretty sick patients, and being able to have a skill set where you can offer help to those patients in a time of need is very rewarding,” says Uittenbogaard, who practices with Metropolitan Neurosurgery.
Many up-and-coming physicians like Uittenbogaard are driven to solve vexing problems that others haven’t been able to fix. Using their clinical experiences, they power research and work to bring new treatments or technologies to the bedside.
During his vascular surgery fellowship at Mayo Clinic, Manunga learned how to do minimally invasive aortic dissection repair near the kidneys, liver, and other organs—previously very risky because traditional stents could block important blood vessels. The new procedure involves creating custom stents with openings for these blood vessels, allowing surgeons to safely fix the dissection without invasive surgery.
Manunga brought his expertise with the procedure to the Twin Cities. “I love figuring out new ways of doing things that will be better than what’s out there. That’s what drives me,” Manunga says. “And I love seeing the smile on patients’ faces after you fix them, and they and their families are so grateful. I love giving patients the ability to walk out the door knowing they no longer have this ticking time bomb.”
A high point of Uittenbogaard’s work is participating in research and taking advantage of evolving technology that improves treatments and outcomes for patients with brain cancer. At Abbott, he participates in researching a particularly deadly brain tumor called glioblastoma. It involves developing a vaccine made from the patient’s tumor to prevent the cancer from returning.
Uittenbogaard is heartened by advancements like the inter-operative MRI, which allows neurosurgeons to analyze whether they have removed an entire tumor during surgery, instead of doing an MRI post-surgery only to discover that some of the tumor remained.
Achieving better results, changing the future of medical care, and, above all, helping patients live healthier, longer lives motivates these rising stars. “I truly love my job,” says Polcari. “It’s a privilege when you get to help other people, when it’s your job to make other people feel better. It helps you sleep well at night, which makes up for nights when you can’t sleep because you’re worried about a patient.”
When asked by friends what else she would do if she wasn’t a doctor, Goepferd can’t come up with alternatives. “It’s a really powerful experience to be one-on-one with a child and family, and feel like you’re really impacting their life,” she says. “And with teaching, I think about all of those medical students and residents eventually touching hundreds of thousands of families’ lives. It’s a way to have a much bigger impact on children and families, and that’s a profound and powerful thing to participate in. It’s a gift to do this work.”
Doctors like Polcari, Uittenbogaard, Manunga, and Goepferd—who earn recognitions like Top Doctors or Rising Stars—tend to really dig in and get involved in many aspects of medicine, from teaching and research to public health and advocacy. They share a passion for their profession that is palpable, positive, and life-changing.
This is the third edition of our Top Doctors Rising Stars list. While our Top Doctors list has always recognized medical excellence in our community, with this edition we turn our attention to outstanding physicians who have been fully licensed to practice for approximately 10 years or less. This list includes 383 doctors in 43 specialties. When compiling any list of this nature, research is essential. For this survey, the doctors included in this list were selected after a peer-nomination process. From there, candidates were grouped into 43 specialties and evaluated on myriad factors, including (but not limited to) professional achievement, review by an expert physician panel, extensive research, and disciplinary history. Only doctors who acquired the highest total points from the surveys, research, and blue-ribbon panel review were selected to this list. Of course, no list is perfect. Many qualified doctors who are providing excellent care are not included on this year’s list. However, if you’re looking for exceptional physicians who have earned the confidence and high regard of their peers, you can start your search here (or go to mspmag.com/risingstars17). This year’s Rising Stars also will join a prestigious group of similarly selected doctors in more than 30 areas around the country—see them all at superdoctors.com.
Editor’s Note: Many of our Rising Stars have specialty certification recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties. This board certification requires substantial additional training in a doctor’s area of practice. We encourage you to discuss this board certification with your doctor to determine its relevance to your medical needs. More information about board certification is available at abms.org.© 2017 MSP Communications. All rights reserved.