Native Atlantan Brett Mendel has gone into private practice as a gastroenterologist. We got to know a little more about the brunch-loving, first-time father.
AJT: Why gastroenterology?
Mendel: I knew I wanted to be a doctor after undergoing an emergency appendectomy when I was 10 years old. I can still recall lying on the hospital bed in pain, awaiting the arrival of my surgeon. My parents were trying to keep me calm while dealing with their own nerves. When Dr. Naffis walked into the room, the air changed. He carried with him a sense that everything would be OK. I decided at that moment I wanted people to have the same sense around me that I had around Dr. Naffis.
During medical school I was awarded a Howard Hughes Medical Institute research fellowship. At the time I wanted to become a transplant surgeon and spent the year performing immunology research in the transplant lab at Emory. During that year I learned how the immune system interacts with and affects different organs. The liver, for instance, possesses tolerant properties that can allow a person to accept a new liver in an environment that would reject a heart, lung or kidney from the same donor. I decided that I wanted to pursue a medical field that would include taking care of patients with liver disease.
Gastroenterology is the field of medicine that deals with diagnosing and treating liver disease among many diseases and illnesses in the abdomen. My time in the transplant lab provided invaluable experience studying the immune system, which forms the basis for many of the diseases we encounter every day.
AJT: Do you have any ties to the Atlanta community?
Mendel: I was actually born at Northside Hospital. The media sometimes talk about Atlanta as a transient town, but there are a good number of native Atlantans around. That said, my wife was one of those transient people who came to the city for work. She liked what she saw, and the city is pretty great too. My family is still in the area and active in the Jewish community. I was very fortunate to complete all of my medical training in the Atlanta area. It is such a joy to have the opportunity to help take care of the community close to where I grew up.
AJT: You must have a unique perspective from growing up in Atlanta. What do you enjoy about working in the city?
Mendel: Atlanta is such a dynamic place. I love seeing the changes that seem to occur daily. My wife and I enjoy exploring the different neighborhoods, parks, farmers markets and cuisines available. Atlanta really does have something for everyone. As the newest member of Atlanta Gastroenterology Associates, I am joining the largest private gastroenterology group in the country. Where other practices may have to send patients a long way for specialty care, we can offer our patients almost any GI need under one roof. Outside GI, the medical community in Atlanta is close. My patients usually do not have to travel far for excellent care in any field.
AJT: Are you connected with the Jewish community?
Mendel: We have such an amazing Jewish community in Atlanta. Some of my earliest memories from childhood involve going to the JCC to watch my dad’s basketball games. I have many other happy memories of going to Sunday school, BBYO programs and of course summer camp. In fact, my wife and I met because our fathers went to summer camp together about 55 years ago. It is very important for me to pass on the traditions and culture of our Jewish community. My wife and I love our Shabbat dinners and can’t wait for our daughter to light the candles with us as she grows.
As a young Jewish gastroenterologist, I have an even bigger connection to the Jewish community. Not only do Ashkenazi Jews have a significantly increased risk for developing colon cancer or Crohn’s disease, but also who doesn’t have a friend, aunt or bubbe with a “sensitive stomach”?
AJT: You just began practicing at St. Joseph’s. How has that experience been?
Mendel: I spent the past 12 years training at Emory. The past five years were part of the division of digestive diseases. After training, I took a few months off as my wife and I welcomed our first child into the world. I began in private practice with Atlanta Gastroenterology Associates in October. I see patients with various digestive diseases, including reflux, trouble swallowing, abdominal pain, screening and prevention of colon cancer, celiac disease/gluten sensitivity, and liver disease. I also spend time in the hospital taking care of patients admitted for diseases such as GI bleeding, acute liver injury and pancreatitis.
AJT: Spending so much time in the hospital caring for patients with diseases must take a lot out of you. What do you enjoy most about your job?
Mendel: I grew up with my parents telling me, “Find something you love to do, and you will never work a day in your life.” I am so fortunate to love what I do. Getting to know my patients and their families and working with them to diagnose and treat their illness continues to spur my passion for medicine. There is also something very satisfying about removing colon polyps and preventing cancer.
AJT: What do you do when you’re not removing polyps?
Mendel: I love cooking. I think it is my way of using my degree in chemistry and perhaps a bit of a creative outlet. On weekends you can usually find me with my family on the BeltLine or on a never-ending quest to find Atlanta’s best brunch spots.