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May 2004

Irene S. Snow, M.D.
Preserving a Fine Tradition

by Joseph H. RADDER

With World War II finally over and tens of thousands of Buffalonians back home with new families, new jobs, new dreams, three young doctors had their own dream. Why not pool their practices in one facility in order to provide better patient care, better equipment, and perhaps cost savings that could be passed on to patients. These three physicians, Dr. George F. Koepf, Dr. Ramsdell Gurney, and Dr. Murray S. Howland Jr. formed the Buffalo Medical Group in a small office on Delaware Avenue near Allen Street in 1946. Little did they know how their idea would grow. Today, the Buffalo Medical Group consists of 107 doctors in 24 different Western New York locations serving many thousands of patients and 16 different hospitals.

One of the doctors who is preserving the fine tradition established by the original three founders is Irene S. Snow, M.D., who has been with the BMG since 1988 and Medical Director since 2002. A Primary Care Internist who still sees patients one day a week, Dr. Snow feels strongly about the quality of care her Group provides. "I am so proud," she says, "that the Board of Directors of the Buffalo Medical Group has put together an Administrative team, with emphasis on the word team, that has been able to not only survive the very difficult times when we have seen other large groups fold or not do well but we have been able to stay the course and continue the vision of the founders."

After a basic education in Binghamton, New York and pre-med studies at SUNY Binghamton, Irene Snow matriculated at the University of Buffalo Medical School. She served her internship and residency at the university affiliated hospitals, Buffalo General, the Veterans Administration Hospital, and ECMC. During her final year of residency she became Chief Resident at Buffalo General Hospital. Her first practice was in a university-based group of primary care physicians at the Buffalo General Hospital where she also became Medical Director of Employee Health.

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Missionary medical care in Honduras - 2003.

"Being able to make a difference in someone's life" is most gratifying to Dr. Snow. "One of the things I've been able to do in the last two years comes under the heading of missionary work. I was able to go to Honduras with a medical missionary group led by Dr. Lee McCune. The best thing about it was I was able to take my daughter and my son with me on our first trip. Last year, my daughter couldn't go because of her work as a pre-med student at the University of Rochester so my husband and my son went along. It was a wonderful experience for our family to truly appreciate what life is like in a Third World country.

In 2000 Dr. Snow herself became a patient after being diagnosed with breast cancer. This changed her life. She said "If you had asked me four or five years ago if I would have done these things like become the Medical Director of the Buffalo Medical Group or do this missionary work, I would have told you perhaps at the end of my career. But, after recovering from the cancer I don't put things off anymore."

She credits being able to maintain her practice and administrative responsibilities during eight months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments to her colleagues, staff, husband, and sister. "Both of our parents passed away in 1987so there is just my sister and me. Despite living in Philadelphia, my sister and her family drove up to support me through every chemotherapy treatment. She made me laugh at a time humor was not only necessary but therapeutic. We are extremely close."

A benefit Dr. Snow states she derived from being a breast cancer survivor is: "As a doctor, you always like to think you are empathetic to medical conditions, but I now find that I am able to give a little extra something to women who must face this diagnosis.

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Irene and her mother June - 1955. Irene at 5 years old - 1959.
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Irene in High School - 1972. Mother June, Father Greg, Irene and Sister Mary Jane - 1977.

Born in Binghamton in 1954, Irene Snow has wonderful memories about her childhood and youth. She credits her parents with making her the person "I think I am, I hope I am." My mother was Australian and my father was American. Both of them were in World War II. My father was a Marine on a battleship in the Pacific and my mother was a nurse in the Royal Australian Air Force. She was actually captured by the Japanese…and despite that horrible experience, she had an enormous capacity to love and to give."

"After the War, my Dad became a pharmacist with a selfless dedication to his family He was my biggest advocate always telling me 'you can do anything you want to do as long as you set your mind to it.' During the difficult years he was always my sounding board and the one who kept me focused. Her annual summer job was as a lifeguard and park attendant in Binghamton. Later she would have a summer job at IBM.

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Summer job as lifeguard - 1976. Hanging out with Uncle Syd - 1972.
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Hanging out with medical students Dr. Terry Stephan-Haines and Dr. Lynn Steinbrenner in Scotland - 1980.

In high school, Irene Snow played the clarinet and saxophone and at one time considered a career in music "My Dad was a trumpet player," she said, "and when I became more sophisticated with my music we would play together. When I came to my junior year in high school, I felt that I had to make a decision, whether I was going to go into music or medicine. I rationalized my selection of medicine by saying music can always be a hobby if I'm a doctor, but medicine can't be a hobby if I'm a musician." Today she's more passive in her love of music, enjoying and listening to all kinds of music every opportunity she can.

Between Irene Snow's first and second years in medical school, while home for the summer of 1977 she met John Herzig. Both were working summer jobs at IBM in Binghamton between college semesters. They were married in Buffalo in 1982. "John's support of our family has cleared the way for me to be aggressively involved in many of the challenges that face health care delivery today."

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Irene and John on their wedding day
July 24, 1982.
John, Irene, Lisa and Eric - 1990.

Herzig is a manager of Information Security at HSBC. They have two children, Eric, 17, who is a junior in high school, and Lisa, 20, who is in pre-med studies at the University of Rochester. Eric plays hockey and lacrosse and Lisa is a dancer. Dr. Snow loves going to her children's events.

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With Eric and Lisa at Marineland - 1988. With Eric and Lisa at the Grand Canyon - 1998.
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Lisa loving her dance - 2001. Eric loving his hockey - 2000.
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Eric and Lisa in 1999. Nieces Jennifer and Caroline, Lisa and Eric,
brother-in-law Jerry, sister Mary Jane, Irene and John - 1998.

"My husband and I love to hike." Dr. Snow told us. "One of our favorite places to hike is Zion National Park in Utah. It's probably one of the most beautiful parks I've ever been in."

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Hiking at Lake Mead - 2000. Hiking in Zion National Park - 2001.
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Hiking at Mt. Washington, NH - 1987.

She also enjoys reading historical novels and non-fiction. Philosophy? Irene Snow believes, "you should always have another goal, and you should always be challenging yourself."

The walls and shelves in Dr. Snow's office at the Buffalo Medical Group are filled with awards and honors. She has won six Top Ten Quality Awards from Independent Health since 1999. She is listed in "The Guide to Top Doctors" as voted on by her peers when asked who they would consider most desirable for the care of a loved one. She was also named one of America's Top Physicians by the Consumers' Research Council of America. This year, she was nominated for the Athena Award. The Buffalo/Niagara Partnership makes this award annually to a Western New York woman who has achieved the highest level of professional excellence.

Dr. Irene Snow has strong views about what's right and wrong in the Buffalo/Niagara medical community. She said "I think there are some extraordinarily talented, dedicated, excellent physicians in our community. That being said, I think this is a very challenging environment for them to be in. Why? Because (health insurance) reimbursement rates in Western New York are not only lower than almost any other place in the country, but are also misallocated to support hospital bricks and mortar. And so, as Medical Director of BMG, I am constantly being challenged by the fact that we are not nationally competitive.

In order for me to recruit a young doctor here, he or she needs to know, out of the box, that more money could be made almost anywhere else. If you have a young person out of medical school who is drowning in debt, this is not an attractive place to come because they have got to begin the early part of their career where they can make a decent living. Combine that with the fact that we have too many hospitals here, physicians and ancillary healthcare professionals are spread very thin. We spread this very valuable yet scarce resource over an extraordinarily broad base."

Additionally, our hospitals compete. For example, several hospitals offer angiograms. Many local medical leaders believe there should be only one hospital dedicated to being the cardiac center of excellence. For instance, the state of the art care for heart attack is angioplasty intervention within two hours of the heart attack. The competition between the hospital systems has stretched a limited number of interventional cardiologists to too many competing hospital systems. This has resulted in Western New York as being an area that can't offer this service, whereas Rochester, New York and Syracuse, New York provide primary angioplasty. The fix can happen by either consolidating hospital services or increasing physician fees to attract more interventional cardiologists.

Has the region lost doctors? "Yes," Dr. Snow says. "Many doctors have left WNY at a time in their careers when uprooting is unusual and difficult however those who remain are of extraordinary value to us. They're loyal, they're dedicated, they're hard-working, and they're very committed to this area."

We asked if this was behind the reason Buffalo hospitals recently received only average ratings.
"Absolutely," Snow said. "The problem with our hospital systems right now is that too much money is going into supporting bricks and mortar and reduplicating expensive technology. Because we have all of these campuses that are continuing to build these additional technical facilities, none of them is really able to do it well. Volume drives quality."

The answer? Dr. Snow thinks the only answer is "to close and consolidate services and facilities." Clearly she is one of the new medical leaders in our community who will, in time
help turn things around for the benefit of patients and health care professionals alike. Meanwhile, her high standards are a daily influence at the Buffalo Medical Group.

A person very close to Living Prime Time said recently, "I don't believe I'd be alive today if it weren't for the fine doctors at the Buffalo Medical Group. I have three major diseases," he said, "I'm 84 years old, and it's really quite a miracle that I'm here." This is the sort of supportive comment heard almost daily, and is solid testimony to the quality of health care provided by the Buffalo Medical Group with the support of Dr. Irene Snow.

Joseph H. Radder, a frequent contributor to Living Prime Time, is author of a new book, Young Jesus, the Missing Years. For more information, phone 1-888-280-7715 or visit


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