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"What's Up, Dr. Dovec?" - Meet Dr. Diana Whitehead, discussing Gastroenterology at GBMC

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Laura Zabriskie

January 20, 2021
Finding a new healthcare provider can be a daunting task. It’s difficult to know whether they’ll be a good fit for you from just a biography and a photo online. In the series, “What’s Up, Dr. Dovec?” GBMC bariatric surgeon, Elizabeth Dovec, MD, FACS, FASMB, interviews providers across the GBMC HealthCare System so you can get to know them on a personal level and learn more about their specialties. In this episode, Dr. Dovec interviews Director of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Diana Whitehead, MD.

Gastroenterology is truly an all-encompassing field. Dr. Whitehead describes it to her patients by saying “we take care of anywhere from the mouth to the anus.” This can include the esophagus, the intestines, the colon, and even the liver. The discussion began with one of the most important parts of Dr. Whitehead’s job – screening. Recently, there has been a rise in colorectal cancer, which highlights the need for regular screenings. For many years, it was recommended that people of average risk begin getting colonoscopies at age 50, but in October 2020, the American Cancer Society lowered the age to 45.

Dr. Whitehead acknowledged that many patients are apprehensive about this procedure, but emphasized its importance for catching and preventing cancer. During a colonoscopy, clinicians are able to check for cancer and remove any polyps that might be found in the colon. Polyps are clumps of cells that form along the lining of the colon. While not all polyps are precancerous, many are. Removing those cells can prevent cancer from forming and potentially save that person’s life.

Dr. Whitehead said that GBMC has almost cleared the backlog of appointments from the beginning of the pandemic, but recognized that some patients are still hesitant to come to the hospital. She assured viewers that GBMC follows significant safety precautions such as mask wearing, chairs spaced apart to maintain social distancing, protective barriers, and regular cleanings. Dr. Whitehead urged patients who are due for a colonoscopy to call and schedule one as soon as possible.

The conversation then shifted to Dr. Whitehead’s background. She lived in the West African country of Ghana until she was 10 years old, and then moved to the United States. She spent the rest of her childhood in Germantown, MD, which she considers home. Her Ghanaian roots inspired her to go into medicine because she saw how challenging it was for some people to access healthcare there.

After receiving her undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland, Dr. Whitehead travelled north for her medical training. She earned her Doctor of Medicine degree from SUNY Upstate Medical University, completed her residency in Internal Medicine at Brown University, Rhode Island Hospital, and went on to a fellowship in Gastroenterology with a focus in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. After fulfilling all her training, Dr. Whitehead moved back to Maryland. “I learned a lot up north,” she said, “but it was time for me to come home.”

While Dr. Whitehead enjoys general gastroenterology, she is truly passionate about treating patients with IBD and was thrilled when she had the opportunity to lead the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at GBMC. She explained that inflammatory bowel diseases, which are different from irritable bowel disease, cause structural damage to the bowel, creating symptoms that can significantly disrupt a person’s life. The Center offers IBD patients multidisciplinary care with access to gastroenterologists, nurse practitioners, general surgeons, radiologists, and more. “I feel like treating patients with IBD allows me to make a tangible difference in their quality of life,” she expressed. When asked why she chose GBMC, Dr. Whitehead simply stated: “Working here is like coming home to friends and family. I truly enjoy every minute of it.”

To make an appointment with Dr. Whitehead or schedule a colonoscopy, please call the Gastroenterology office at 443-849-3400.
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