PRINCETON: Spotlight: NBC’s top doc talks up Womanspace

By Kristin Boyd Special Writer
    It’s 8:30 a.m., and Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC News’ chief medical editor, has already put in a full day’s work. The New York Times best-selling author spent the morning discussing the swine flu vaccine and the first U.S. face transplant on the Today show, and in a few minutes, she’ll wrap up her latest blog entry and head to MSNBC for another round of TV appearances.
    “Being on television is just like sitting at someone’s bedside. You don’t lie, you don’t bs, you don’t make anything up,” says Dr. Snyderman, a Princeton resident. “I love explaining complicated stuff in a way that, no matter your level of education, you’ll find it interesting.”
    Dr. Snyderman’s candor, down-to-earth personality and commitment to public health are what make her the “perfect” choice for Womanspace’s 15th annual Barbara Boggs Sigmund Award, according to Patricia Hart, the organization’s executive director.
    “What we look for is someone who has improved the lives of women and girls, and who provides a good role model for young people and is following in Barbara’s footsteps,” Ms. Hart says. “Dr. Snyderman is a perfect example. Her television presence is providing information, and her books are all extremely informative.”
    Journalist Cokie Roberts, who is the late Barbara Boggs Sigmund’s sister, will present the award during a dinner reception at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 14, at the Hyatt Regency Princeton at the Carnegie Center in West Windsor. Individual tickets cost $150, with proceeds benefiting Womanspace.
    “I was frankly quite flattered,” Dr. Snyderman says. “I’ve admired Womanspace for a long time from afar. Everybody always asks me if I knew Barbara Boggs Sigmund, and I didn’t. And they’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s a shame. You would’ve loved her.’ This legacy of Barbara, knowing Cokie and having known her mother, too, I feel like we have two degrees of separation.”
    Barbara Boggs Sigmund, a former Mercer County freeholder and Princeton Borough mayor who died in 1990 after an eight-year battle with cancer, founded Womanspace in 1977. The Trenton-based nonprofit provides comprehensive services, including counseling, crisis intervention, housing programs, court advocacy, 24-hour hotlines and an emergency shelter, for women and families impacted by domestic and sexual violence.
    The award named in Barbara Boggs Sigmund’s honor highlights the extraordinary difference one dedicated person can make to help changes lives. It’s presented each year to a person or a team of people who have served as role models and have made significant societal contributions.
    Dr. Snyderman doesn’t consider herself a role model, per se, but she can relate to the women at Womanspace. Like them, she endured an abusive relationship in her 30s, when she was “old enough to know better and too insecure to do anything,” she says.
    “I tumbled out a bad relationship once, and I was thinking, ‘How could I let this happen to me?’ You’re embarrassed and you don’t know where to turn,” she says. “One day, I was walking by a TV and overhead an expert say, ‘Listen, I don’t care how many times he says he loves you. If he hits you, he doesn’t even like you.’ That stopped me in my tracks.”
    “Violence against women is not bounded by race, age or socioeconomic status. Stuff happens behind closed doors that would shock you,” she adds. “Women are the nuclei of any community. They’re the nuclei of the family. When things go wrong, there’s a ripple effect. We have a vested interest in making sure that women are taken care of.”
    Dr. Snyderman, who graduated from medical school at the University of Nebraska, got out of her abusive relationship and refocused on her career, already in full swing. She worked as surgeon, primarily on head and neck cancers.
    “I knew I was going to be a doctor,” she says. “From third grade on, I knew I was going to medical school.”
    Today, in addition to her NBC gigs, she is the author of five books and an associate professor of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery at the University of Pennsylvania. She lives in Princeton with her husband, Doug, and children, Charlie, 15, a freshman at Princeton High School; Rachel, 20, who’s studying South American economics at Wellesley University, and Kate, 22, who’s studying veterinary medicine at the University of Vermont.
    On this morning, as the time ticks closer to 9 a.m., Dr. Snyderman, a “passionate equestrian,” is hoping to sneak out early and maybe ride her two horses, Pastorale and Oz. Wishful thinking, she says on second thought, after remembering she must work on an upcoming cancer series in the afternoon.
    “Whatever success I’ve had in life is because I plug away,” she says. “I wasn’t the smartest person in my medical class. I’m not the prettiest person on TV. I’m not always the best communicator. But I work hard. I have an insatiable curiosity, and I always push myself.”
For more information about Womanspace or for tickets to the 15th annual Barbara Boggs Sigmund Award reception, call 609-394-0136 or visit www.womanspace.org. Following the awards reception, Dr. Snyderman and Cokie Roberts will sign their most recent books, “Diet Myths that Keep Us Fat: And the 101 Truths That Will Save Your Waistline – And Maybe Even Your Life” and the revised and expanded 10th-anniversary edition of “We Are Our Mothers’ Daughters,” respectively. Other titles will also be sold, with proceeds benefiting Womanspace.
If you or someone you know needs help escaping an abusive situation, call Womanspace’s 24-hour hotline at 609-394-9000.
Dr. Nancy Snyderman on the Web: www.BeWell.com