Not many people decide by third grade what they want to do when they grow up, and stick with it. But few individuals are as focused as Sharyn Lewin, MD.
Inspired by her grandmother’s conversations about work as an obstetrician/gynecologist with a practice on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Lewin knew she, too, wanted to be a doctor who treats women. At the time, she didn’t fully comprehend the enormity of her grandmother’s impact on so many women. She just knew “grandma” helped people and she wanted to do the same.
“My grandmother was really a pioneer in women’s health. She taught women how to plan their pregnancies so they could have careers,” Lewin said. “At the time, that was basically unheard of.”
Once Lewin made up her mind in that early elementary year, she never strayed from her resolve to become a doctor.
But she did roam from her midwestern roots. Raised in Kansas, she is now a fully-entrenched Bergen County resident, mom and surgeon. Though she routinely returns to visit her native New Yorker parents in Kansas, she calls New Jersey home.
“I love living in Bergen County, what I call a beautiful suburb of New York City,” Lewin said. “It’s such a melting pot with so many people of different backgrounds and cultural diversity. I find the people very welcoming and friendly – not what you typically expect in the northeast.”
Lewin, a parent of a toddler, tries to spend as much time outdoors as she can – jaunting to parks, beaches and other venues geared to young families. They especially enjoy Overpeck County Park, she said. They also do anything that “promotes learning,” including visits to the Liberty Science Center.
Her love for learning is embedded in her core. As a nationally known gynecologic oncologist and medical director of Gynecologic Oncology at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, Lewin thrives on research and reading up on the latest advancements in the field of cancer or genetic testing.
In fact, she admits when she does have some downtime, she can be found cozied up with a medical journal. Though she is learning to play golf, her hobbies mainly revolve around the field of medicine and the non-profit she started in 2014 to help women affected by cancer.
“I read so much about physician burnout and how important it is to take time to go on vacation, go for a walk or to the gym,” Lewin said. “I do try to get out for fresh air and take walks, but sometimes it’s just very difficult to fit it all in. And I truly get a lot of satisfaction from treating my patients.”
Her partner at Holy Name, Dr. Maria Schiavone, who is also a gynecologic oncologist, fully understands how difficult it is for physicians to live a balanced life.
“When you have such an intense job and a family, there’s not much time left for other things,” Schiavone said. “Dr. Lewin is just as committed to her patients’ emotional well-being as she is to their clinical outcomes.”
Schiavone met Lewin more than eight years ago, while Lewin was an attending physician and Schiavone was a resident at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. They both went on, at different times, to garner a coveted fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering before Lewin recruited Schiavone to Holy Name.
“I was immediately struck by her bedside manner,” Schiavone said. “Not only does she have an excellent surgical technique but she is 100 percent committed to her patients’ quality of life.”
Lewin’s dedication to women’s health was so strong that it prompted her to create the Lewin Fund to Fight Women’s Cancers in 2014. The small amount of spare time she does have is devoted to this 501(c)(3) nonprofit, started after one particular patient shared her thoughts on how women should be cared for while they are battling cancer.
“Unfortunately, this patient passed away but she had such vision,” Lewin said. “I realized women with cancer definitely need to be taken care of and I’ve become passionate about making sure they are given the special treatment they need.”
While Lewin talks passionately about the importance of emotional support, physicians and administrators at Holy Name are quick to point out that she is recognized nationally and internationally for her surgical skill and expertise in performing minimally invasive and open procedures. Added to this distinction is her ability to treat each patient as an individual, tailoring her care to the specific needs and circumstances of every woman, said Dr. Adam Jarrett, executive vice president of Medical Affairs at Holy Name.
“Dr. Lewin and Dr. Schiavone bring their exceptional talent to Holy Name, offering the type of superior care found in New York City or at large academic centers and leading us into a new era of gynecologic care,” Jarrett said. “Their high level of expertise, combined with their dedication and passion for helping women, make them a powerful force in the fight against the disease.”
Whether it’s through her interaction with patients or her foundation, which works on supporting grassroots programs that help women battling cancer, education initiatives and research projects, Lewin tries to improve the quality of life for women through their cancer journey. Patient after patient attests to the extra care Lewin showers on them.
“Dr. Lewin is just phenomenal,” said Laura Mack, who survived ovarian cancer at 32 after being treated by Lewin. “She was there for me, answering all my questions, comforting me the whole time, even calling me on weekends to make sure I was okay.”
But as much as she gives to her patients, Lewin says she gets in return. It was her patients who influenced her to change specialties from obstetrics/gynecology to gynecologic oncology.
“I was doing my residency in gynecologic oncology and fell in love with those patients,” Lewin said. They were so courageous and passionate. I called home and just kept talking about the patients, the surgical techniques – everything about this field I just found fascinating. So I switched.”
Through the years, her enthusiasm and compassion has never wavered. She is still quick to put an arm around a scared patient, ask about family members and offer encouraging words of comfort. She sees this as just part of the job. But others see it as defining who she is.
“She makes you feel like you are part of her family,” Mack said. “She is always there for you.”
By Jessica Humphrey-Cintineo