South’s Greatest Medical Professionals 2022/23

It’s no secret that working in healthcare is challenging. However, it is also rewarding beyond meaThese professionals are sharing the ups, the downs, and what makes their job so special.

Photos / Tiffany Goggin

1. Soraya Castillo

Surgical Assistant / Miller Dental Group

Q: What is your favorite part about working in the medical field?
A: The sense of self fulfillment when I help someone reach their dream smile. Seeing my patients leave with beautiful smiles that I helped create and being a small part of all their stories is why I love what I do.

Q: What is your biggest takeaway from the pandemic moving forward?
A: Don’t take your loved ones for granted. The pandemic was so sudden and we lost so many people so quickly. It made me realize we could be here one day and not the next.

Q: What is one thing you would tell those who have not seen what you have in healthcare in the last two years?
A: I would tell those that have not seen what I have seen in the last year is if you are an aspiring healthcare worker, work hard to reach your dream. Working in healthcare has been extremely rewarding and I highly recommend it.

Q: Advice for those considering a career in healthcare, or specifically dental?
A: Invest in yourself. I have worked at Miller Dental Group for one year and in that year I invested in myself and furthered my education. Doing this made me more valuable to the team and helped me reach the lead surgical assistant position. If you invest in yourself others will too.

Q: Is there a story you’d like to share?
A: At my first job as a dental assistant, I hated everything about my job. I was miserable and convinced dental assisting was not for me. I decided to give it another shot and found a great office with amazing doctors and staff. Now, I wake up every morning and I get to do what I love and help people everyday. I’m glad I stuck with it!

Q: What do you do outside of work?
A:I enjoy cooking, baking, and being a mom. When I cook for my loved ones, I love seeing their faces light up as they taste all the deliciousness.

Miller Dental Group:
901 E. 66th St., Savannah, GA
103 Park Ave., Suite 200, Pooler GA
millerdentalgroup.com

2. Melissa Porter

Urological PA-C / Urological Associates of Savannah, PC.

Q: What is your favorite part about working in the medical field?
A: The interaction with my patients. I love when they share their personal lives with me. I have been with the same medical practice for almost 14 years, so, I have lifelong bonds with patients that extend far beyond the exam room.

Q: As a medical professional, what is your biggest takeaway from the pandemic moving forward?
A: It allowed us to find innovative ways to connect with patients at home via telemedicine or telephone visits which has allowed us to see patient’s faces that are homebound, or bed ridden — at least on a screen.

Q: What is one thing you would tell those who have not seen what you have in healthcare in the last two years?
A: Please be patient with the medical community. During COVID, we lost so many providers, nurses, medical assistants, and so on due to burnout or worse. The medical community is so overburdened with not having sufficient staffing. Imagine you get upset when you go to a restaurant and there is not enough staff to wait on you, now place yourself in our shoes with not having enough staff to evaluate and treat patients. We are working hard to accommodate your needs. We know we run behind at times and your time is valuable. Remember, we will take just as much time with you as we did every other patient.

Q: Advice for those considering a career in healthcare?
A: We need you! You will not find a more rewarding job than in the medical community. We need dedicated individuals to pour love, kindness, and compassion into the world. You can be a bright light in somebody’s day with just a smile and a positive attitude. Now, add treating that patient and the gratitude shown is beyond measure.

Q: What do you do outside of work?
A: I love to watch and coach volleyball. I used to play through college and now I am watching my daughter take part in a sport that I have loved for many years. Unfortunately, I am no longer able to play, as I have had four shoulder surgeries. I also love football season! It is not a Winter Saturday without watching my dawgs play! GO DAWGS!

Urological Associates of Savannah, PC.
230 E. DeRenne Ave., Savannah GA
urologysavannah.com

3. Mary Vacala

ATA, PA-C / Co-owner / Urgent Care of Berwick, Sandfly, Wilmington Island

Q: What is your favorite part about working in the medical field?
A: Spending time with patients and getting to know the whole person and not just the injury or illness. The hallmark of a physician assistant (PA) is getting a proper history and physical exam in order to form a differential diagnosis. We are like detectives constantly examining the evidence and formulating a hypothesis based on our findings. The clue to unraveling the diagnosis is listening to the patient. Those are the moments and the part of the profession I cherish.

Q: As a medical professional, what is your biggest takeaway from the pandemic moving forward?
A: Patients suddenly became aware of the dangerous implications of disease and had to learn to become advocates for their own health. Medical care was transformed, telemedicine was born, home-based testing was instituted, and technology became a significant means to assess patient health. Medical professionals had to learn to be resilient and cope with change.

Q: Advice for those considering a career in healthcare?
A: I am very biased — I think the physician assistant profession is the greatest opportunity in healthcare. I have worked as an orthopedic PA for 34 years and recently switched over to full time urgent care, specializing in orthopedic and sports medicine. My advice would be to start shadowing practicing PA’s early on in your decision making process. Most educational programs require prior medical experience and this exposure to patient care is invaluable.

Q: What’s your philosophy?
A: ‘Try to make a difference everyday.’ When I was asked to choose a photo of doing one of my hobbies, I immediately decided to have my picture with a few of my favorite patients. These patients have made a difference in my life and their friendship is extraordinary. I have treated each of these children, (most on multiple occasions.) They are some of the toughest, strongest kids and have the biggest hearts. I am forever grateful that they have come into my life and made a difference.

Q: What do you do outside of work?
A: My passions are family, friends, and fun. I am lucky to have an amazing family, and I learned when I was very young to surround myself with people that are better than me. Fun is sometimes on a golf course; it used to be triathlons; I enjoy leisure travel; I volunteered with the US Olympic/Paralympic committee for 29 years; I love sports and concerts, but am most passionate about making sure a good time is had by all.

Urgent Care of Berwick, Sandfly & Wilmington Island
5730 Ogeechee Rd., Suite 192, Savannah, GA
7360 Skidaway Rd., #L2, Savannah, GA
212 Johnny Mercer Blvd., Savannah, GA
urgentcarefamily.com

4. Marianne Smith

RN / Chatham Plastic Surgery

Q: What is your favorite part about being a medical professional?
A: My favorite part about being a nurse is the personal connection I am able to make with my patients. I love that I have the opportunity to help people feel safe in their most vulnerable moments. It is truly a blessing to make a small impact on their lives.

Q: As a medical professional, what is your biggest takeaway from the pandemic moving forward?
A: The pandemic has shown the world the resiliency and commitment nurses truly have for their patients and the profession as a whole. It was an extremely tough time for everyone, especially nurses. Working at Chatham Plastic Surgery, I have had patients tell me that they have wanted plastic surgery for years but kept putting it off. Since the pandemic, they have realized that we do not know what tomorrow brings. Life is too short to have regrets.

Q: What is one thing you would tell those who have not seen what you have seen in healthcare in recent years?
A: Remember that everyone has a story. We don’t know what someone is going through or has gone through so have grace, patience, and compassion for others. Most nurses would agree that patients tend to share their stories with us. My patients will tell me things beyond the medical part of their visit. Patients trust their nurses, so as nurses we need to listen. Sometimes that’s all they need.

Q: Advice for those considering a career in healthcare, or specifically dental?
A: Nursing is a challenging yet incredibly rewarding profession! Embrace the changes, never stop asking questions, and never forget why you decided to become a nurse. If you do this, you will never regret your decision to become a nurse!

Chatham Plastic Surgery
8 Stephenson Ave.,
Savannah, GA
chathamplasticsurgery.com

5. Brianna Sapp

APRN, FNP-C / Savannah Facial Plastic Surgery

Q: What is your favorite part about being a nurse practitioner?
A: Helping people! Whether it’s by helping someone feel more confident or helping clear and repair skin cancers, my heart is in helping and caring for others.

Q: As a medical professional, what is your biggest takeaway from the pandemic moving forward?
A: That we are all in this together. Kindness and understanding towards others goes a long way.

Q: What is one thing you would tell those who have not seen what you have in healthcare in the last two years?
A: Wear your sunscreen! I am seeing patients younger than ever with skin cancer. Even on cloudy days, make it a priority to add sunscreen to your daily routine.

Q: Advice for those considering a career in healthcare?
A: Be willing to put in the hours and the work! It takes a lot of hard work to get here, but it is worth every minute.

Q: Is there a story you’d like to share?
A: My favorite gift I’ve been given was a children’s book for each of my kids, written by my patient!

Q: What do you like to do outside of work?
A: Being a mom to my two kids, Harper (10) and Hudson (7)!

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: I am a certified nurse aesthetic specialist who specializes in fillers, neurotoxin, skincare and laser treatments! I also assist in facial plastic surgeries. Come see me or follow me @briannainsavannah!

Savannah Facial Plastic Surgery
5356 Reynolds St., Suite 510,
Savannah, GA
savannahfacialplasticsurgery.com

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