Contributors’ Bios

Jesse Hackell, MD, FAAP began practicing pediatrics in Rockland County, in the northern suburbs of New York City in 1981, and became a founding member of Pomona Pediatrics in 1987. He is a graduate of Princeton University, and received his MD from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1976. His pediatric residency was completed at Johns Hopkins as well, and he undertook one year of training in Neonatal-Perinatal medicine at The University of Texas in Houston. He is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics, with permanent certification, and is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Dr. Hackell has two adult children. His interests include sailing, photography, fine art and gourmet cooking. He is also an avid runner, and has completed twenty four marathons.

Jenn Gruen, MD, FAAP is an East Coast “lifer,” born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island. From the age of eight, she knew that her life’s goal was to be a pediatrician. She graduated Magna cum Laude with a degree in Neurobiology from Brown University in 1988, and then attended Cornell University Medical College in Manhattan, where she met her husband David, a radiologist. She completed her pediatric residency and was a Chief Resident at Babies Hospital of Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, also in NYC.

She practiced for ten years in Stamford and Wilton pediatric practices. During this time, her three children were born. She and her family ultimately settled in Weston, where she and her partner Nikki Gorman, MD, FAAP are achieving their dream of Village Pediatrics, a home-grown, small town practice where they provide a true medical home to their patients and develop close relationships with their families.

When she isn’t caring for her patients, Dr. Gruen loves doing crafts, baking, and throwing great kids’ birthday parties. She is also known as the “1 out of 5” pediatricians who recommends chocolate to her patients who love it!! (In moderation of course…)

Suzanne Berman, MD, FAAP practices at Plateau Pediatrics in Crossville, Tennessee. She is a native Californian but has lived in many parts of the United States. She first became interested in medicine during a field trip to the Texas Medical Center in elementary school.

Dr. Berman did her undergraduate preparation for medicine at Rice University in Houston, Texas. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in chemistry and Latin American studies. She obtained her MD with high honors from the University of Tennessee, Memphis, where she was inducted into Alpha Omega Alpha, the medical academic honor society. Dr. Berman did her residency training in pediatrics at Southern Illinois University in Springfield, Illinois. She is board certified in pediatrics.

Dr. Berman is married to fellow pediatrician Robert Berman, MD, with whom she cofounded Plateau Pediatrics in 2001. They have one son.

Herschel Lessin, MD, FAAP has been a pediatrician in the Hudson Valley for almost 30 years and is looking forward to another decade or two of caring for the children in his practice. While he treats all pediatric patients and illnesses, he has a particular interest in immunizations and has published nationally on this topic. His other areas of interest are asthma and ADHD.

Dr. Lessin attended medical school at Stanford University School of Medicine, and did his pediatric internship and residency at Yale-New Haven Hospital. He is the co-lead author of several American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statements, including such topics as improving immunization coverage, immunizing parents, and instrument based vision screening.

He has given pediatric advice on local radio (Kidstuff on Z93) for 10 years, the Poughkeepsie Journal (Pediatrician On Call) for 10 years, and has commented on pediatric issues for national news media including WABC-TV, The Associated Press, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Dr. Lessin has spoken to parents groups throughout the Hudson Valley area on the subjects of Behavior Problems, Parenting Issues, ADHD and Asthma. He has also presented to physicians on a national level at many pediatric conferences.

In the past decade, he has travelled to Honduras, Vietnam, Ghana, Dominican Republic and Guatemala to participate in more than a dozen medical mission trips, providing free medical care to children in these countries. He feels fortunate to have been able to take both of his children on these trips, to expose them to the experience of how most of the world lives.

Dr. Lessin’s philosophy of medicine is to “listen to parents and talk to kids.” He enjoys having fun at office visits and tries to “make the kids not hate me too much….” He enjoys answering questions and explaining complex medical issues to parents in understandable language, especially concerning chronic illnesses in children. Dr. Lessin knows that when parents truly understand why he makes his recommendations, they are far more likely to follow them, and are confident enough to take control of their child’s illness.

Nelson Branco, MD, FAAP practices at Tamalpais Pediatrics and Marin General Hospital in Marin County, California. He is originally from Massachusetts and attended Boston University for both his undergraduate degree in Psychology as well as medical school. He moved to California in 1995 for his pediatric residency at Children’s Hospital Oakland.

After finishing his residency, he and his wife Nell moved to Shiprock, New Mexico to work for the Indian Health Service on the Navajo Nation. He spent three years there, practicing pediatrics in a rural site in northwestern New Mexico, learning about Navajo culture and health as well as enjoying the beauty of the Southwest. In 2001, they returned to the San Francisco Bay Area and moved to Marin County.

Dr. Branco began working at the Marin Community Clinic and spent four years practicing there, caring for uninsured and underinsured residents of Marin County before joining Tamalpais Pediatrics in 2005. He also work for the Pediatric After Hours Clinic and at Marin General Hospital as a Pediatric Hospitalist. Dr. Branco is very active with the local chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Branco speaks Portuguese and Spanish and welcomes the opportunity to care for children and families in the language they are most comfortable with.

Dr. Branco and his wife have three children and live in Marin. When not working, he enjoys spending time with his family, cycling, woodworking and reading.

Natasha L. Burgert, MD, FAAP was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska. She completed an undergraduate degree in Biology at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. After spending some time in biogenetics research, she completed medical school at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. Following medical school, her pediatric training was at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio. She is Board Certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Her husband is also a pediatrician, and they both joined Pediatric Associates in 2006.

When at home, she enjoys reading good books and cooking for family and friends. She is a distance runner and enjoys road races around the city. She also has a passion for travel that will certainly lead to many memorable family vacations with her husband and two children. And, of course, she bleeds Husker red.

Integrating technology into her practice is an evolving hobby. She is the administrator for the social media sites used by the office. And she regularly blogs at

Dr. Natasha thinks she has one of the best jobs in the world. Everyday she has the opportunity to experience the joy of new babies, the comedy of five year olds, the challenges of teens, and the pride of graduating seniors. She looks forward to meeting your family and sharing these moments with you.

Follow Dr. Natasha Burgert on Twitter @DoctorNatasha

Joanna E. Betancourt, MD, FAAP completed her medical school at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas.

After medical school, Dr. Betancourt and her husband moved to the United States where she completed residency training at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Dr. Betancourt is a board certified pediatrician and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Dr. Betancourt started her own practice in 2004. Her practice is located in a suburbs of Chicago where she lives with her husband and 3 children.

Her focus as a primary care doctor is to center on the whole child; looking at the physical, mental and social health issues that might affect a child’s growth and development. Moreover, she considers her role as a pediatrician to educate, counsel and be an advocate and friend to her patients and their parents or guardians. As a mother of three children, she understand a parent’s needs and anxieties. Her goal is to be a resource to parents as they raise their children to be happy and healthy.

You can follow Dr. Betancourt on Twitter @spediatrics

Jennifer Shaer, MD, FAAP, IBCLC is a pediatrician, board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) and a member of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. She is founder of the first breastfeeding medicine practice on Long Island. Dr. Shaer is dedicated to helping nursing mothers achieve their breastfeeding goals. She has been practicing pediatrics since 1999 and breastfeeding medicine since 2005.

Jennifer Shaer graduated from Tufts University in 1992. She attended Medical School at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, graduating in 1996. She completed a pediatrics residency at Albert Einstein / Montefiore Medical Center and was chief resident at Jacobi Medical Center.

During her free time Dr. Shaer enjoys running and spending time with her husband and three children.

David R. Sprayberry, MD, FAAP, is a board-certified pediatrician who was born in Memphis, Tennessee and raised in Augusta, Georgia. He has had the good fortune to attend the Masters golf tournament a number of times over the years and enjoys going back to the tournament when he is able. Doctor Sprayberry attended the University of Georgia where he graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in International Business. He met his wife at the University of Georgia and was married one year prior to entering medical school. He has three wonderful children who keep him busy and entertained at home when he is not busy and entertained with his practice.

Doctor Sprayberry took pre-medical classes for the two years following his undergraduate years, during which time he worked for a physical therapist, cared for traumatic brain injury patients at a transitional living center, and then worked at a rehabilitation hospital.  Upon completing his prerequisite classes, he attended medical school at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, Georgia. Doctor Sprayberry then completed his pediatric residency at Greenville Hospital System in Greenville, South Carolina.

Following his pediatric training, Dr. Sprayberry began his pediatric practice in Athens, Georgia, where he has practiced since 2004. He enjoys building relationships with families and loves the comedy provided by the children.  Doctor Sprayberry is a strong proponent of childhood immunizations and has particular interest in infectious diseases, international child health and medical missions, and adoption.

In his free time, Dr. Sprayberry enjoys spending time with his lovely wife and wonderful children, is very involved with his local church fellowship and often attends sporting events at the University of Georgia.  He has had the opportunity to volunteer his services at a youth camp, as well as to serve at a mission hospital in Kenya. He also blogs on various medical and non-medical topics at

Denise Somsak, MD, FAAP –  is a native Clevelander who graduated from The Ohio State University College of Medicine in 1997. She completed her residency in Pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. She was a primary care pediatrician for 5 years at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Primary Pediatric Care Clinic before joining this office.

Dr. Somsak is Board Certified in Pediatrics, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Cincinnati Pediatric Society.

Dr. Somsak is married and has three children. Because of her son’s autism, she is especially interested in child development and the need to treat all children with equal respect and wonder.

She has a special interest in nutrition and breastfeeding and is a member of the AAP Section on Breastfeeding. She also dabbles in social media and invites you to follow her on twitter, @Dr_Som or comment on her blog,

Dr Richard Lander, MD FAAP decided when he was five years old he wanted to be a pediatrician and has never regretted that decision.  Dr. Lander  has always treated his patients the same way he wants his family treated. He founded his four person, two office group in Livingston and Morristown, New Jersey in 1978 after serving as chief resident in pediatrics at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

His special interests in pediatrics are learning disabilities and adolescent medicine although he has as much fun with his infants as he does with his patients in their early twenties. He has been involved with the American Academy of Pediatrics first on the State level serving as the New Jersey chapter president and then on the national level, participating and chairing different committees and sections.

He has won two awards from the American Academy of Pediatrics. He feels his greatest accomplishments are being married to the same woman for over 36 years and his wonderful children:  his daughter who is a child psychologist, his son a cardiologist and his daughter-in-law, a social worker.

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