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Coast physicians show passion, commitment and dedication

Photography by Brandi Stage Portraiture

Their specialties range from dentistry to optometry, but the five physicians gracing the cover of our October issue have several things in common — passion for their field, commitment to continuous learning and dedication to their patients. Meet Dr. Randy Buntyn, Dr. Johneen Gilich, Dr. Richa Gupta, Dr. Pam Tuli and Dr. Randy Roth, physicians who provide some of the best care on the Coast.

Service with a smile

Dr. Randy Buntyn aims to make patients feel great about dental care

When Dr. Randy Buntyn was a child, he knew he wanted a career that required hands-on experiences with people while utilizing problem-solving skills and extraordinary technology. 

Despite his father and grandfather both being dentists on the Coast, dentistry was the furthest thing from his mind. 

“Oddly enough, I never really thought about being a dentist,” Buntyn says. “I had been around dentistry my entire life. As a young fellow, I would hang out at my dad’s office doing lab work, and without realizing it, I was developing hand skills.” 

He served in the U.S. Navy as a sailor aboard the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal. When it came time to choose a career field, suddenly his path just clicked.

“Sometimes, I feel like I didn’t choose dentistry; dentistry chose me. I do feel like this is what I needed to do in life, and I wish everyone could have that feeling.” 

“Sometimes, I feel like I didn’t choose dentistry; dentistry chose me,” Buntyn says. “I do feel like this is what I needed to do in life, and I wish everyone could have that feeling.” 

He has been a dentist for more than 20 years and heads Smile Gulf Coast dentistry practice in downtown Ocean Springs. Buntyn is excited to announce he will be moving his office to Gulfport, off Cowan-Lorraine Road and across from Captain Al’s Steak & Seafood. 

“I grew up in Gulfport, and my dad had a dental practice there for nearly 50 years,” he says. 

Each day at Smile Gulf Coast begins with structure and efficiency, with organizational meetings held before and after the care of each patient. The main object is ensuring all patients feel safe, secure and good about their dental health. 

“These days, service seems to have taken a back seat in many areas of life,” Buntyn says. “We try hard to provide incredible service.” 

Buntyn knows that avoiding dental work out of fear can lead to teeth and gum neglect, but with a little tender explaining, jitters can be easily overcome. 

“We have a gentleman who is retired from the military, and he was so scared of the dentist for so many years that he never went to the dentist and his back was against the wall,” he says. 

A friend from church referred the patient to Smile Gulf Coast, and Dr. Buntyn and his staff created a detailed plan for his dental care recovery. 

“He now has teeth he can function with, and he’s so proud that he has the biggest, friendliest smile you’ve ever seen,” Buntyn says. “It’s just incredible.”


A passion for fashion — and eye health

Dr. Johneen Gilich soars to new heights with optometry practice and optical shop

Rarely does a member of the medical community get to focus on fashion, but Dr. Johneen Gilich found a way to provide great healthcare along with great style. 

For the last 17 years, Gilich has treated her eye patients as an optometrist, which may include picking out the latest eyewear at her optical shop. 

“I’m very passionate about my optical shop, which allows my passion for fashion to soar,” she says. “Providing local residents with the opportunity to purchase eyewear locally, and not have to resort to the internet, with no chance to try on various styles, was a major goal of mine for the Coast area.” 

It took a tremendous amount of hard work and persistence for her optical shop to gain exclusive rights to the Christian Dior and Fendi brands of eyewear. 

“This makes my optical the only optical (practice) in the state of Mississippi to carry these designers,” she says. 

Other designers available through her practice, Edgewater Eyecare in Biloxi, include Burberry, Prada, Gucci, Tom Ford, Krewe, St. Laurent, Chloe, Ray Ban, Maui Jim, Costa Del Mar and many more. 

“This diverse selection of designers and a huge selection set my optical (practice) apart, is unique to the Coast and makes me beam with pride,” Gilich says. 

And when it’s time to focus on eye health, the doctor knows the importance of a thorough eye examination. 

“I can see warning signs of serious cardiovascular and neurological conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, brain tumors and other serious ailments,” she says. 

It’s not unusual for patients to send Gilich a heartfelt gift and handwritten thank you note after her diagnosis saved their lives.

“Those moments in my career are priceless, and I will never forget them. Being able to uncover systemic diseases daily through routine eye evaluations is beyond gratifying.” 

“Those moments in my career are priceless, and I will never forget them,” she says. “Being able to uncover systemic diseases daily through routine eye evaluations is beyond gratifying.” 

She also handles ocular emergencies involving scared and injured patients. 

“When someone has suffered an eye injury, or calls begging for relief from eye pain, nothing is more rewarding than examining their eyes and being able to help alleviate their pain,” she says. 

Her practice and optical store have many moving parts, and Gilich credits her all-star staff with keeping everything together. 

“You are only as good as the people you work with, and it holds true in my office,” she says. “I get multiple compliments daily from patients about my staff and their kindness and efficiency. 

“I’m a high energy person, so the members of my team must be people who enjoy a non-stop workday, and I’ve been blessed to attract some wonderful people with fast motors who care deeply about providing the highest-quality care to our patients.”


Cutting-edge problem solver

Dr. Richa Gupta is changing the face of autoimmune disorders one patient at a time

A typical day for Dr. Richa Gupta is just as invigorating as it is complex and challenging. 

The 10-year board-certified rheumatologist says cutting-edge laboratory diagnostics and the fast pace of targeted treatments available to combat autoimmune inflammatory disorders have changed the face of rheumatology. 

“Each patient is a puzzle, sometimes too complex, making rheumatology intellectually challenging — which I love,” Gupta says. 

Her fast-paced day consists of meeting with patients on a comfortable, one-on-one basis to understand their unique medical issues, and her remarkable staff provides a work-family environment that keeps the day frictionless.

“I am very passionate about listening to my patients. Talking with them, knowing them and their symptoms, is the best way for me to diagnose their disorders. I am a big advocate of knowing their immune system. It helps me get to their diagnosis, and the treatments in this complex field.”

“I am very passionate about listening to my patients,” Gupta says. “Talking with them, knowing them and their symptoms, is the best way for me to diagnose their disorders. I am a big advocate of knowing their immune system. It helps me get to their diagnosis, and the treatments in this complex field.” 

Gupta’s patients always are willing to share the happy, and even the sad, aspects of their lives to facilitate their treatment. 

“Many of them cry during consultations because they love sharing their sorrows and feel they can connect with me,” the doctor says. “Sometimes they cry because they now have answers for their pain and symptoms. I usually tell them that we will work together in this process ….” 

Gupta says the appreciation her patients have for her is the best part of her day and can lead to enlightening conversations. 

“It’s the most interesting discussions between my older patients and me that teach me different perspectives and life lessons as well,” she says. 

Gupta employs those life lessons at home with her two girls, Raima, 12, and Aariya, 9. She and her husband, Dr. Biju Marath, who is a nephrologist, are surrounded by many supportive friends and lots of caring family members who help keep their lives running smoothly and efficiently. 

“We plan our days ahead of time and balance life to the best we can,” she says. “We are really constantly busy, but I still feel very excited to go to work every day.” 

Gupta credits her physician father for giving her a stellar example to follow in the medical field and the support of her mother for her passion in achieving her goals. 

“It was seeing my father care for and treat patients since I was a little girl that made me want to be a doctor,” she says. “My mom, who is extremely intelligent, was very supportive. She encouraged me to pursue my passion and dreams, and here I am. I owe this big time to my mom and dad, and my very supportive husband and daughters.”


‘Mission accomplished’

Dr. Randy Roth treated patients like family throughout heartbreaking pandemic

Dr. Randy Roth has been a physician for nearly 30 years, but nothing could have prepared him for the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We pulled together, learned together and cried and grieved together,” says the chief medical officer at Singing River Health System. “As our COVID patients were isolated from their families, we became their family. We vowed that not one patient would die alone from this horrible disease. I am proud to say mission accomplished, as we sat with our patients, prayed with them and held their hand till the very end.”

“As our COVID patients were isolated from their families, we became their family. We vowed that not one patient would die alone from this horrible disease. I am proud to say mission accomplished, as we sat with our patients, prayed with them and held their hand till the very end.” 

A sense of humor is vital for doctors to keep their sanity, but Roth said there was nothing comical about tackling the pandemic. He credits his staff for providing a loving and gentle devotion to each COVID patient. 

“It takes hundreds of people rowing the boat in the same direction to be successful in healthcare,” he says. “I have been blessed to work with these people with a common mission to improve health and save lives. COVID brought me to the realization that you don’t know the time or the place when the Lord will call you home. It reinvigorated me to enjoy my time with the people I love the most.” 

These days, Roth and his wife, Dr. Tracy Roth, are busy teaching their six children to find a career path they feel passionate about and focus on being positive influences and great examples in their kids’ lives. 

“My true passion is hospital medicine,” he says. “I love taking care of people I know. I came to a smaller community to make a difference. I want people that I go to church with, or know in the community, to want to get their care at Singing River Hospital System, and I am so honored when they want me to take care of them. 

“Mississippians are hardworking, loving, and trusting people. They welcome you into the community. Unfortunately, Mississippi is also one of the unhealthiest states, so I enjoy helping educate our population about how to take better care of themselves.” 

His plans include a continuous focus on hospital medicine with possible travel opportunities to experience the healthcare systems of other communities and different cultures.


Making strides against cancer

Dr. Pam Tuli feels fortunate to be on the frontline of oncology science and research

Each day, Dr. Pam Tuli feels fresh regard and respect for her patients — and she considers herself the lucky one because she gets to be in their lives. 

“I admire them for their courage, tenacity, and grace,” she says. “They inspire me. They have taught me that we all have the ability and strength to overcome even the worst adversity, and that in every negative, there is a positive. They remind me to live each day to the fullest and not to sweat the small stuff. Every day, they teach me and remind me of what’s important in life.”

“I admire them for their courage, tenacity, and grace. They inspire me. They have taught me that we all have the ability and strength to overcome even the worst adversity, and that in every negative, there is a positive.” 

She also feels fortunate to have entered the oncology field when she did 16 years ago because she has experienced firsthand the stellar strides in cancer research and science. 

“I got to witness the incredible evolution and advancement in the field,” says the oncologist with the Medical Oncology Group in Biloxi. “No other field in medicine has seen near the level of advancement. Oncology is such a unique and special field in medicine. It’s interesting, challenging, personally fulfilling and allows you to have such a positive impact on patient’s lives.” 

Tuli says she chose oncology because she wanted to practice and teach medicine that would be anything but boring. She and her staff treat each patient like family and feel honored to be the team helping and guiding them during a critical point in their lives. 

“Cancer science is so fascinating and always changing and advancing,” she says. “You definitely can’t get bored in this field. And unlike a lot of fields in medicine, in oncology, we see our patients on a frequent and regular basis, which allows me to get to know my patients and their families well. 

“In so many ways, I feel I am more capable of treating my patients well because I truly get to know each of them as a person.” 

Tuli loves sharing her knowledge with her staff and patients, as well as other doctors. 

“I love to teach medicine,” she says. “I almost always have a resident doctor working with me, sometimes up to three on any given day. I think teaching makes me a better physician, as to teach something, you need to understand it well yourself. Medicine is always changing, and teaching forces you to stay updated.” 

The doctor learned recently that being an oncologist is the only thing she’s ever wanted to do in life. She and her husband were taking their youngest son to visit a college, and her son posed an interesting question for them to ponder during the car ride: “If you could do anything for your job, and you would be good at it, what would you do?” 

“We all contemplated the question for a while before giving our answers,” Tuli recalls. “My husband chose to work in landscape maintenance, as it would allow him to be outdoors, and the physical labor would keep him in shape. My son decided that he would be a stand-up comedian. 

“I thought about many possibilities: interior designer, architect, hair stylist. In the end, however, I realized I would choose exactly what I am doing right now because I truly love what I do.” 

She has determined that she’s right where she belongs and has no plans to stop anytime soon. 

“There have been incredible advances in recent years, leading to the ability to cure many or provide long remissions to patients who previously had no hope,” Tuli says. “The field continues to make advances at such a rapid pace, so I’m excited to see where we will be and what we will have to offer our patients in five years.”

Written by Cherie Ward

Cherie Ward is an award-winning writer and journalist from Ocean Springs, Miss.
Connect with her by email at chereliseward@gmail.com or find her @cherieward on Instagram.

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