Paul Hellstern, MD

Paul Hellstern, MD

Paul Hellstern, M.D., Citrus Gastroenterology Associates

Physician’s Excellence in Healthcare Award

The deep drawer in the desk in Dr. Paul Hellstern’s office is full, but not with file folders. Rather, it’s filled with letters, cards and notes from patients, thanking Hellstern for his care of them. One of those satisfied patients nominated him for the Physician’s Excellence in Healthcare Award. “Almost 11 years ago, this man, doctor, friend, was able to take me from the verge of total liver failure to where I am now. Through all those years, he has stood by my side, before the transplant and through it and continues today to be our family’s hero. I’ve had four Pauls in my life — my husband, my uncle, my son, and forever, Paul Hellstern.” Hellstern has spent his entire medical career with Citrus Gastroenterology Associates, joining the practice in 1995 after completing a fellowship in gastroenterology at the University of Arkansas. At the time, several factors motivated him to move to Citrus County. “Dr. Bikkasani and Dr. Ram, who hired me, had an ambulatory center for outpatient procedures. A lot of places didn’t have that then,” he said. “Plus, I wanted to move to Florida. I grew up in Cleveland; I wanted to be where it was warm. “I liked the idea of practicing medicine in a smaller community,” he added. “After experiencing practicing at the University of Arkansas during my fellowship, I knew being part of a big medical center wasn’t for me. I like to be able to spend time with my patients and I wanted not to be in a big hospital. This was also a great environment to raise kids; it’s safer and you’re not far away from the cities.” Hellstern used his strength and interest in the sciences to forge his career. He earned his medical degree from Wright State University School of Medicine in Dayton, Ohio, where he also completed his internship and residency programs. The gastroenterology fellowship at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock followed. Hellstern is board certified in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology. He chose gastroenterology because it was a field he liked working in, he said. “I was mentored by an older physician who told me ‘whatever you pick, pick something you enjoy. You have to get up and go to work every day, sometimes at four or five in the morning. If you don’t like it, you’ll never survive.’ I took that advice to heart.” Helping patients get well and recover is a highlight of the job. But Hellstern also must help patients who are facing difficult prognoses. “We have to give patients really bad news sometimes. It’s actually a terrible day for us, too, when we have to do that. We deal with patients with cancer, liver disorders. I have many patients with Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory bowel diseases and their conditions are difficult for them, hard to live with,” he said, adding that advances in medicine have helped in many of the cases. “Some diseases were dismal when I was starting out. Today, we can keep many of them in quiescence and patients do very well,” he said. “The advances in medicine itself are astronomical.” Hellstern helps with that advancement by doing research and conducting clinical trials with Nature Coast Clinical Research. pau “Some diseases have no treatment options available, just clinical trials,” he said. “Others, such as Crohn’s disease, have several different medications available but they don’t work on every patient. This gives patients an opportunity to try different medications. We are making progress.” Citrus Gastroenterology Associates currently has six physicians in its practice. The doctors get together often for dinner and hold a journal club every two months to discuss recent articles in medical journals. The partners practice in similar styles, said Hellstern, including in their care of their patients. “As a group, we do a lot for patients. We have a full-time pharmacy tech who helps patients get authorizations from insurance for their medications. Most practices don’t offer that,” he said. When the cost of colonoscopy prep solution began rising, the practice started buying the product to offer it to patients at a lower cost. Hellstern believes his Healthcare Hero award is due to his compassion and hard work. “I try to do so much for my patients; all my partners are the same,” he said. “I return a lot of phone calls, sometimes in the middle of the night. I know my patients personally, I’m always seeing them in the grocery store. I think that’s a factor in it.” His personal experience adds to his empathy for his patients. Three years ago, his wife died of breast cancer. Their two daughters were nearly grown at the time. Today, one lives in Boca Raton and the other attends the University of Florida. Hellstern travels often to visit his daughters and enjoys boating and sometimes, “just sitting by my pool and doing absolutely nothing.” He looks forward to continuing his medical practice. “We work hard but I like it,” he said. “Every day is different; no day is the same in medicine.”

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Healthcare Heroes 2018

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