Father and Son Practicing Medicine 80 Years

August 13, 2015
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Drs. Stephen and Harry Swartz have combined over 80 years of experience and dedication to their patients. Photo: John Burton

Drs. Stephen and Harry Swartz have combined over 80 years of experience and dedication to their patients. Photo: John Burton

Drs. Swartz believe in the personal approach

MIDDLETOWN – The bond between Harry M. Swartz and his son, Stephen J. Swartz, goes beyond just the traditional, familial connections, sharing the chosen path of healers.

Harry and Stephen as practicing physicians have a combined more than 80 years experience and have worked together for nearly 30 years, sharing a medical practice located on Cherry Tree Farm Road.

“We never had one argument…” Stephen offered, but with what appeared to be a little tongue-in-cheek and a sly smile.

“…That he didn’t win,” Harry responded, without missing a beat, offering a laugh.

Harry, 84, a Rumson resident, has been practicing medicine for 56 years. “I was always interested in medicine,” he said, even going back to when he was attending elementary school. “I was always attracted to that feeling of family, of working with people,” he explained, “to do as the old family doctors have done, develop relationships with people.”

The Swartz family had lived above the family practice offices on Cherry Tree Farm Road, where Harry and his wife Renee raised Stephen and son Sydney (who is a practicing anesthesiologist in Florida). When Stephen was a young child, he recalled finding a bird with a broken wing. Stephen brought the injured animal to his father. “Dad stopped with all his patients and splinted the wing,” found an eyedropper and the two began feeding the bird until it was better and could be released, Stephen remembered.

That capped it for Stephen, who said he had always wanted to be a doctor. He said he was fascinated by the fact that people would arrive at his father’s office and leave feeling better. “I was fascinated that Dad could fix anything,” he said. “And I thought I would like to do that.”

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Stephen, 59, who is married with three children and lives in Little Silver, taught at the University of Miami, Florida, Medical School after residency, practicing medicine since 1986 and then came home and has worked with his father since 1987. In part what interested him is that medicine “is like a puzzle,” Stephen said. “It’s about putting those pieces together,” to derive a diagnosis and offer the appropriate care for patients.

What has he learned from his father? “I would say compassion,” Stephen said. “The spirit that no matter what the problems, we can face it together and solve it together.”

Harry “started practicing medicine before most of the medicines we have were available,” Stephen noted. “He has just a tremendous knowledge base of medicine,” readily drawing upon the latest innovations for patients. “He has this ability to use what’s available.”

Dr. Harry and Dr. Steve, as they’re called by patients and office staff, have both been named for Riverview Medical Center’s annual Physician Recognition Award. Harry received it in 2006 and Stephen being named in 2014.

The two doctors, in addition to caring for their own patients in River view also serve as admitting doctors for other physicians, overseeing those patients’ treatment while hospitalized

“There is something to be said that they’ve been able to practice medicine the right way, the personal way,” said Tim Hogan, Riverview’s president, “and still at the same time get tremendous results for their patients.

“They’re great physicians. Their clinical expertise is unparalleled,” Hogan added.

What makes for a good general practitioner, Harry explained is “taking the time to talk to patients, getting to know their background, their problems, not just health issues.”

They truly think of them as family in many regards, Harry said. At this point in his career, he treats in some cases three generations of families. He has over the years had numerous clergy members as patients, including in the past the nuns from St. Mary’s Roman Catholic parish in Middletown and a Greek Orthodox priest, who, Harry said, has promised to offer daily blessings to the doctors. Many of the patients come by with gifts, baked goods and in the case of that priest, he gave a set of antique wine goblets as a token of appreciation, Harry noted.

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“We have been able to master the personal, one-to-one relationships over the years,” he said. “We love our patients and they love us.”

But medicine has changed. And with Stephen’s guidance the practice has expanded beyond a general practice to include internal medicine, geriatric care, and sports medicine. Stephen has a whole list of other responsibilities. He is the medical director for Care One at King James, Atlantic Highlands, a rehabilitation and long-term care facility; he regularly lectures on elder care and Alzheimer’s disease at Riverview; he is working with a team of researchers on a colitis medication; oversees hospice care at River view; and serves as a municipal physician for a number of towns and as a senior doctor for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“We do a lot of stuff, “ Stephen noted.

They really do work seven days a week, between office and hospital visits and other responsibilities, with one of them always available on call. And that can be challenging balancing professional and personal lives, they acknowledged. At 84, Harry continues to put in long days. But, “I don’t plan on retiring,” he maintained, but eventually will cut back on some of the workload. And when he does he realizes, “I’m very fortunate that Steve is with me and so qualified to take over.”

For Stephen, the credit belongs to the father. “He really taught me how to practice medicine.”

 

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