Sady R. Sultan, MD
Sady R. Sultan, MD
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An Empathetic Soul for Patients in Correctional Health
Dr. Sady Sultan knows the power of a simple pill or injection. As a month-old fetus, Dr. Sultan lost his 34-year-old father before he was even born. Pulmonary edema had taken him after rheumatic fever weakened his heart. A casual dose of penicillin could have prevented the chain of events, but it was unavailable in their Venezuelan home.
With friends and family telling him constant stories about what his father was like, Dr. Sultan learned the frailty of life from the moment he was born.
It drew him into child and adolescent psychiatry, where he worked at NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem for 35 years. He was often a big brother or a father figure. “Many of the kids who didn’t have a father figure, I related a lot to the issues that come out of that,” he says. “It gave me an easy empathy.”
His actions inspired his two sons to follow in his footsteps, one as a child psychiatrist and the other as a pediatrician. (His daughter is still in college — no pressure!)
In 2010, he pivoted to psychiatry for NYC Health + Hospitals/Correctional Health Services patients on Rikers Island.
There he lets patients be heard. As a bonus, he also is free to converse in Spanish with them — 25 percent of whom prefer to express themselves in that language.
“I try to get them to see themselves in their own future in a positive and optimistic way,” he says. “When they feel like you’re treating them like any other patient — that you’re treating them like they don’t have a criminal record — that’s when you really engage their humanity and their possibility.”
He learned that, in a way, from his father.
His father fled the Civil War in Spain, having been tipped off by a friend in government that his protests against the dictator Francisco Franco had him scheduled for arrest and execution. It taught Dr. Sultan how easy it is to be labeled a criminal in a broken, biased, bitter system.
“I try to live up to his expectations,” he says. In practice, he exceeds any expectations.
Dr. Patsy Yang, Senior Vice President for Correctional Health Services says Dr. Sultan could easily thrive in any healthcare setting. Yet, he has chosen to work with the incarcerated population due to his commitment to caring for the underserved. “He has shown a remarkable ability to work with patients of all ages, exhibiting a sense of empathy and compassion that puts even the most-guarded individuals at ease,” she says.