Dr. Deborah Sims was born and raised in Detroit, but these days she is very much at home in Windber where she is a breast cancer surgeon at Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center. Sims began her career as a general surgeon in Michigan in 1988 and worked at teaching hospitals for 20 years. She started working at the Windber hospital in October of 2014.
What drew you to the medical field?
There were no doctors or nurses in my family. I loved animals when I was a little kid and I wanted to be a veterinarian. At some point, I figured if I could take care of animals, I could take care of people.
You have described your position at Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center as your “dream job.” What is it you like about the center and your role there?
There are many reasons why this is my dream job. We have everything we need here in one place to provide patients with efficient comprehensive breast care. We have excellent imaging equipment to evaluate the breast (3D mammogram, breast and pelvic ultrasound and MRI) and perform image-guided needle biopsies. Our building is beautiful and was designed to put patients at ease.
It's the people here as well. The staff is wonderful, well-trained and kind. I get along wonderfully with Dr. Trudi Brown (the other breast surgeon). We also provide genetic testing, collaborate with Windber Research Institute and participate in the Clinical Breast Care Project.
It's all of those factors and more and the fact that this community has provided a level of support I have never seen anywhere else.
This breast center is very unique. Joyce Murtha (wife of the late Congressman John Murtha and for whom the center is named) used to go around and look at centers all over the country and she always said that ours was the best and she had all kinds of reasons to say that.
How unusual is the Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center?
Lots of hospitals have breast centers, but that means all sorts of different things depending on where you are. At some hospitals, the breast center is in the department of radiology and is where women get their imaging. It's usually mammogram, and maybe ultrasound and/or bone dexa scan.
Other places have everything under one roof, but this place was designed to be patient-care oriented.
Truly, this hospital has been on a “patient-oriented mission” for really a long time and before I ever came.
This place was built because Joyce Murtha's dear friend, Jeanne McKelvey, had breast cancer and, at that time, you had to go for a mammogram in one place and then wait for a report and then they'd say they saw something and they bring you back for more pictures, maybe an ultrasound. Maybe you make multiple trips just to get those images and then you would wait two weeks to get into a general surgeon who would set you up for oftentimes an open surgical biopsy so the whole process took a long, long time.
For 20 years now, the Gold Standard has been 30 days – so if you feel a lump in your breast and call your doctor and it's a breast cancer, good care means that a woman gets a diagnosis and starts treatment for it starting within 30 days. So, the clock is ticking on us and we feel that pressure when women call. If they are really worried, we will try to get them in that same week if we can. Usually within 72 hours.
We are one-stop shopping. You can get everything done in one day. Although, you are here a long time if you need multiple things.
If you just need a screening mammogram we can get you in and out in 30 minutes or less. Most of the people who come here – that is their experience.
Also, you can self-refer. You need a doctor's order for a mammogram, but if you have a problem you can just call right here.
What brought you to Windber?
I moved to Pennsylvania in October 2003 to take a job at Geisinger Health System because they were trying to build a breast center and I wanted to do breast surgery in a (designated) breast center. I was there for about two years. I thought I was going to be there for the rest of my life, but I didn't fit in that corporate cultural. From there, I moved down to the Harrisburg area where I stayed about nine years: working initially at Susquehanna Breast Care Center in Lemoyne and then at Carlisle Regional Medical Center. When I left Carliste, I did some long-term locums tenens work at a breast care center in Williamsport. Because of that connection, I got called to come help here to Windber.
It was just serendipitous. This is where God planted me and I was very blessed and lucky to get the job.
What do you enjoy doing in any spare time you may have?
I'm really a workaholic, so I don't have much spare time. But I try to take care of my home here in Windber. My son and my mother also are in the area.
I have a cat and I love plants. Nothing ever dies (for me). There is a plant that, when I came, was on my desk and now it literally touches the ceiling.
I also am president of Windber Business and Professional Women's Club. Our group raises money and gives out four scholarships to local girls and supports other local activities to make our local community better.
I have gone on two or three mission trips.
What do you like about living and working in this area?
It's beautiful here. The view from this hospital is amazing. I like the weather and don't want to be where it is hot.
We are so lucky We live in beautiful territory.
What is it you would like women to know?
Early detection through regular screening mammograms starting at 40 really does save lives. Women who perform breast self exams regularly find suspicious lumps in their breasts when they are much smaller than for women who don't check.
If you take 1,000 women and ask them if they have had a mammogram in the last three years, 55 percent say yes, but 45 percent would say no.
We want to reach the 45 percent.
Please get your mammogram. If you can't afford one, the center has various programs that can help. There is no reason you can't get the care you need.