If Anna and Leonid Gershman hadn’t decided to escape anti-Semitism and seek a better life by leaving the Soviet Union nearly 30 years ago, their son might not have become the up-and-coming surgeon he is today in Providence – and at a hospital founded and supported by the Jewish community.
Boris Gershman was only five when he and his parents emigrated from St. Petersburg, known then as Leningrad. Now, many miles and many years later, he’s an expert in urologic oncology and the newest member of the team of physicians at the Minimally Invasive Urology Institute (MIUI), based at The Miriam Hospital.
It’s a journey that has spanned continents and cultures, but which has also brought Dr. Gershman right back to Rhode Island, where he graduated from Barrington High School and Brown University.
Gershman says that coming to work at The Miriam in 2016 has brought him closer to his Jewish roots.
“This is the first Jewish hospital that I’ve trained or worked at,” he said. “When I walk in the doors, it certainly feels familiar.”
Referring to the plaques on the hospital walls listing the many Jewish benefactors, and having attended this year’s hospital gala, he says, “You can tell the community is incredibly connected and has been for many, many years. You can feel the rich tradition and devotion as you walk through the hospital.”
In the Soviet Union, Gershman’s parents endured discrimination and found few opportunities to improve their lives, so they took advantage of an opportunity to legally leave the country in 1988. They weren’t permitted to go directly to the United States, but eventually made their way here after obtaining refugee status.
They moved often after arriving in the United States, but ultimately settled down in Rhode Island. His parents were eventually able to resume their careers, but it didn’t come easy. For example, his father, a physician, worked construction jobs and delivered pizzas to support the family early on before repeating his medical training.
Meanwhile, the Gershmans did everything they could to provide opportunities for their only son. After graduating from Brown, Gershman attended medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. That led to a residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, followed by a prestigious fellowship in urologic oncology at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota. He had extensive training in both laparoscopic and robotic surgery – which allow for quicker recovery, fewer complications and reduced blood loss — as well as open surgery.
Dr. Gershman was thrilled at the opportunity to not only return to Barrington with his wife, Shanna, and their two children, but to join the Minimally Invasive Urology Institute. Established in 2015, its veteran team – including Doctors Dragan Golijanin, Joseph Renzulli and Gyan Pareek – has quickly earned a reputation for expertise in treating cancers of the kidney, prostate and bladder, as well as kidney stones and urinary dysfunction from enlarged prostates. When doctors elsewhere in the state have difficult cases, the patients are often referred to the MIUI.
An avid researcher, Gershman led a study, published in the Journal of Urology in July, that found that conducting a high volume of robot-assisted radical prostatectomies (removal of the entire prostate and some surrounding tissue) was associated with improved outcomes.
Little did he know that his skills were in such high demand in Rhode Island.
“Growing up here, I didn’t have much of an appreciation for the health-care environment or the needs of the state,” he says. “I didn’t know that we had the highest per capita incidence of bladder cancer in the nation. So it’s fitting that I went into urologic oncology and fell into this opportunity here in Rhode Island.... There are a lot of urologic oncology needs here.”
Now, he says, “My biggest satisfaction is when I can connect with my patients – to help them understand their cancer diagnosis, to help them make treatment decisions, to help them through surgery, and to maintain relationships with them for years to come. It’s rewarding – it’s why I went into medicine.”
RICH SALIT is a senior public relations officer at The Miriam Hospital.