Barry H. Greenberg, MD: Expert on HF at the cellular level

  • Cardiology Today, February 2014

During his career, Barry H. Greenberg, MD, has made extraordinary contributions to the effort of understanding HF. He has conducted much research on the basic cellular mechanisms of HF and on the development of new forms of therapy for patients with HF. He also is a founding member of the Heart Failure Society of America, which has a primary mission of improving outcomes for patients through education, research, prevention and care. Education has been reflected in all aspects of Greenberg’s career, as he has been active in mentoring young physicians and in passing on knowledge to patients.

Greenberg’s research interests cover everything from cardiac remodeling after MI to the utility of Tai Chi as a behavioral intervention in HF patients. He serves on steering committees and data safety monitoring committees for numerous clinical trials in HF conducted around the world. His awards include numerous nods as one of the “Best Doctors in America” and the “Best Doctors in San Diego,” and he was the first recipient of the Passionate Heart Award from the American Heart Association’s San Diego chapter in 2010.

A native New Yorker, Greenberg received his undergraduate degree from Brooklyn College and his medical degree from Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, N.Y. He completed his internship at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., research training in the Lipid Metabolism Branch of the NIH in Bethesda, Md., and his residency at Yale-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Conn. Afterward, Greenberg left for the West Coast, where he has remained for his entire career. His first stops were at the University of California, San Francisco, and at Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland, Ore.

Since 1995, Greenberg has been at the University of California, San Diego, where he served as director of its Heart Failure/Cardiac Transplantation Program until 2005 and its Advanced Heart Failure Treatment Program thereafter. He remains active in the HFSA, serving as its president from 2006 to 2008 and today chairing the development committee and review courses.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not practicing medicine?

I enjoy exercising, bicycling, swimming, skiing and other such activities. I also very much enjoy cooking, reading and listening to music, particularly jazz.

If you hadn’t gone into cardiology or medicine, what would you have done?

Since I realized I couldn’t become a Major League Baseball player because that required a degree of talent well beyond what I possessed, it would be a toss-up between a bicycle mechanic or chef.

What would you consider one of your biggest successes in your specialty?

Taking care of patients over the years and what I’ve been able to offer them and their families. Also, serving as a mentor to trainees and younger people over the years. They are unquestionably the highlights of my career.

What is the last book you read? Why and what did you think of it?

The last book I read was Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. It’s about a man’s quest for identity and dealing with the boundaries of his life. I really enjoyed it since those are issues that I deal with, too.

Whom do you most admire and what would you ask that person if you had 5 minutes with him/her?

Five minutes would not be nearly sufficient. My greatest hero is the poet William Carlos Williams. He also was a physician. He integrated those two aspects of his life together in a way I find extremely interesting and admirable. If I had 5 minutes to spend with him, I would want to learn more about how his activities in medicine and poetry resonated with each other and how each of these enhanced the other. The other person would be singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen. I admire his combination of spirituality and earthiness. Again, I’d like to better understand how he integrates both of those together. I think I could learn a lot from these two people.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

“Walk on your tip toes/Don’t try ‘No Doz’/Better stay away from those/That carry around a fire hose/Keep a clean nose/Watch the plain clothes/You don’t need a weather man/To know which way the wind blows.” – Bob Dylan, “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” circa 1965.

Whom do you consider a mentor?

The most profound influence on my career was J. David Bristow, MD, who I met when I was in Oregon. I remained friends with Dave throughout the duration of his life. I greatly admired his clarity of vision and ability to cut through all the fluff and external trappings to get right to the heart of the matter. He strongly influenced me professionally and otherwise. As far as a current mentor, it is the people that I mentor. Mentoring is very much a two-way street for me, and I haven’t failed to meet somebody who I’ve mentored that hasn’t taught me something in return.

Barry H. Greenberg, MD, rests for a few moments in the midst of a training ride on his favorite local course in San Diego.

Barry H. Greenberg, MD, rests for a few moments in the midst of a training ride on his favorite local course in San Diego.

Photo courtesy of: Barry H. Greenberg, MD

What kind of diet and exercise regimen do you follow?

I exercise regularly: swimming, biking, running. I’ve recently taken up Pilates, which is a terrific way to increase core strength and stay limber. I really like skate skiing, but it is not very accessible for me living in San Diego. As far as diet goes, having just gotten back from a bike trip through the Dordogne region in France, my current diet would be foie gras-loading. When I’m off of that I try to eat a fairly simple diet: lots of fish, fruits, vegetables, olive oil, the odd piece of chocolate.

What do you think will have the biggest influence in cardiology in the next 10 years?

There are two things that will influence cardiology enormously over the next 10 years. One is the impact of health care reform. Changes in how we deliver health care, clearly, will come, although the exact shape remains somewhat uncertain at this point. It’s apparent to me, though, that the way we take care of patients in the future is going to be different from the way that we do it now. Having said that, the life of a physician is likely to be different also in many ways.

The other influence will come from the basic insights that we have gained over the last several years about how various processes that determine cardiac structure and function are regulated during both health and disease. That knowledge will lead to new therapeutic advances that will allow us to approach cardiac and other diseases in a much more direct way. I really look forward to continuing to participate in the process of establishing which new approaches and strategies will ultimately be best for patients.

What is your favorite travel destination?

No question, France. Paris will do in a pinch.

What is your favorite restaurant?

When not cooking at home, it’s Bronx Pizza in San Diego. It has great New York pizza, which is the best on the planet. And, the proprietors are from New York, so it’s a place to go when I want to get insulted. – by Erik Swain

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