Dr. Eli Penn is a self-described Internist at heart. He counts among the rewards of being a Gastroenterologist the ability to “think doing medicine.” With influence from his dad, Dr. Chuck Penn, a general surgeon at Ft. Stewart, Dr. Penn entered medical school and became fascinated with the Internists ability to treat so many facets of the digestive system.
“There’s such a mix of procedures, treatments and diagnostics,” he said.
A graduate of Wake Forest University, he earned his medical degree from the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, where he met his wife, Board Certified Pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Penn, also a Statesboro physician, practicing at Children’s Healthcare of Statesboro.
After medical school, Dr. Penn completed his residency at MUSC and a fellowship in Gastroenterology at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Which means after becoming an M.D. he trained for another six years to become board certified in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology/Hepatology. (Hepatology is the branch of internal medicine concerned with the function and diseases of the liver).
During Dr. Penn’s training at UF, he worked with Dr. Robb Hawes, a leading physician in research and development in the area of Therapeutic Endoscopy. Dr. Hawes is credited with founding the Endoscopic Ultrasound Center (EUS) at Indiana University and extensive research in the area of pancreaticobiliary endoscopy. He also established a multi-modality treatment center for the non-operative management of gallstones. He has been a pioneer in developing a new paradigm in minimally invasive surgery called NOTES (natural orifice transluminal endoscopic surgery).
Other than his father, Dr. Penn credits Dr. Hawes with having the greatest influence on his medical career.
That influence is manifested in Dr. Penn’s whole approach to patients. “I like to talk to my patients and spend time with them to make them feel really comfortable,” he said. “Some gastroenterologists – if your scope has no answer – send you back to your primary physician. We keep going until we find the answer.”
With a practice located in EGRMC’s Physician’s Building, Dr. Penn especially enjoys the immediate access this provides for his patients to procedures in the Endoscopy suite. The close proximity saves days of waiting for patients on diagnostics and treatment. “At UF, if you were diagnosed with esophageal cancer, it was usually two weeks to go through the process. Here it’s three days,” he said. “From the biopsy and detection to staging and forming a treatment plan, we can do it all very rapidly here.”
Dr. Penn also serves on the Tumor Board at East Georgia providing his expertise in the treatment of cancer of the esophagus, colon, and any other area of the gastro system that is affected.
“Short of pancreatic surgery, everything here we can do as well or better than larger hospitals,” he said.
Dr. Penn is dedicated to bringing the best available treatment and diagnostic tools to the area and is excited about developments in the diagnosis and treatment of gastro diseases. Among his special skills he cites endoscopic ultrasound (EUS), interventional endoscopy, pancreatic diseases, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohns Disease and Ulcerative Colitis), colon cancer prevention and Barrett’s Esophagus.
“The EUS, (endoscopic ultrasound), sees minute things in incredible detail,” he stated. In EUS a small ultrasound transducer is installed on the tip of the endoscope. By inserting the endoscope into the upper or the lower digestive tract the doctor can obtain high quality ultrasound images of the organs inside the body.
This level of specialty enforces the need for patients to seek out the high quality care that is available in the area, instead of having procedures done by doctors not board certified in gastroenterology. “Statistics show that practitioners who perform a colonoscopy without the proper training only catch 25% of the abnormal detections in males, and 20% in females,” said Dr. Penn.
“Would you rather go to a doctor who does 50 colonoscopies a year, or one who does 1,000?” he asked. “The better outcomes come from the better trained specialists.”
“There was a period 10 years ago when we didn’t have the availability of trained specialists in the area,” he stated. Fortunately, today we have an expert level of care in Statesboro and the region from three dedicated, well-trained, and well-qualified gastroenterologists.