Top docs of 2023—and what it takes to be one

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published December 20, 2023
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Key Takeaways

  • Individuals who make top doctors lists share certain characteristics, such as dedication to patients and peers, profound knowledge, and appointments at top medical centers and universities.

  • Industry leaders like Castle Connolly publish "top doctors" lists each year, naming some of the best physicians from around the country based on peer perception, patient outcomes, and other factors.

  • Recently, year-end top doctor lists have expanded to renew focus on certain physician groups, fostering greater diversity among the pool of the nation's best physicians. Some 2023 DEI initiatives include Top Black Doctors, Exceptional Women in Medicine, and Top Hispanic/Latin Doctors, among others.

It takes grit and determination to become one of the best doctors in the US, as well as fierce dedication to compassionate patient care. Some common themes of being named the "best of the best" include taking advantage of opportunities, strong working relationships with nurses and other HCPs, speaking out for the safety of patients and staff, practicing self-care, and maintaining a knowledge base.[]

Here are some of the year’s best US physicians according to those who rank them, including what it takes to garner a coveted spot on a year-end, best-of list.

Castle Connolly

With more than 30 years in the game, Castle Connolly has raised the bar as a credible source of top doc data.[] Every year, the organization winnows through more than 850,000 board-certified US physicians to come up with a pool of roughly 63,000.

These doctors represent the top 7% of physicians in the country, as rated by their peers. Here are a few doctors who made the cut this year.

  • Dr. Manjeet S. Chawla, Chicago, IL, medical oncologist, Thorek Memorial Hospital, Saint Anthony Hospital, Chicago

  • Dr. Lucy M. McBride, Washington, DC, internal medicine, Foxhall Internists

  • Dr. Jeffrey R. Leonard, Columbus, OH, neurosurgeon, Nationwide Children's Hospital, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

  • Dr. Holly Salzman, San Diego, CA, family medicine, UC San Diego Medical Center, Rady Children's Hospital

Castle Connolly collects data from the National Provider Identifier Registry (NPI), and collaborates directly with hospitals and physicians to come up with names for their Top Doctors list. The site’s dedicated physician portal allows doctors to update their profile to have the best chance of being considered for the year-end list.

Top doctors are nominated by their peers and vetted by the Castle Connolly research team based on professional qualifications, hospital and faculty appointments, education, research leadership, professional reputation, interpersonal skills, disciplinary history, and outcomes data.

Castle Connolly’s focus on diversity

Castle Connolly recently debuted Top LGBTQ+ Doctors 2023, which recognizes exceptional physicians in the LGBTQ+ community who have exhibited outstanding expertise, patient care, and contributions in the field of medicine.

The 64 names on this list include physicians from 22 states across 34 specialties.[]

“Being an LGBTQ+ physician adds a powerful dimension to their ability to serve patients because LGBTQ+ doctors embody visibility and representation, inspiring hope and confidence in their patients,” says Alex Sheldon, Executive Director of GLMA (which partnered with Castle Connolly to produce the list). “Having health professionals who understand the unique health needs of LGBTQ+ communities first hand is invaluable for fostering trust and achieving better health outcomes."

"Their visible presence challenges societal norms, breaks down barriers, and inspires future generations of LGBTQ+ physicians, creating a transformative ripple effect within the medical field."

Alex Sheldon, executive director of GLMA

The new distinction is part of Castle Connolly’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Initiative designed to celebrate physicians from diverse backgrounds and walks of life. To come up with the list of winners, Castle Connolly mined their current Top Doctors list. These doctors voluntarily shared information about their race/ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

Other 2023 DEI initiatives include Top Black Doctors, Exceptional Women in Medicine, Top AAPI Doctors (Asian American and Pacific Islanders), and Top Hispanic/Latin Doctors.

The American Health Council

The American Health Council issues an annual Best in Medicine list of those who “master the key roles that drive patient care—advocate, collaborator, communicator, decision maker, expert, manager, scholar.”[] 

The awards come in two flavors. First, the “Leader in Medicine” award is for physicians who have demonstrated exemplary conduct in their field and includes medical educators and clinicians who lead by example and inspire change.[] Second, the “Award of Excellence” is presented to doctors and educators who exceed expectations in performing their duties.[]

The following are some “Leader in Medicine” winners:

  • James Kennedy, MD, MPH, FACEP, emergency physician, Quest Care/OU Medical Center

  • Dr. Keith A. Perry, medical director of Precision Pain Treatment Clinic in Smithfield, RI

  • Lawrence S. Miller, MD, Chief and Chairman of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Cooper University Hospital and the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University

  • M. Scott Lucia, MD, associate professor and Chief of Genitourinary and Renal Pathology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Denver, CO

Here are some “Award of Excellence” winners:

  • Mohamad Jaafar, MD, professor and Chief of Ophthalmology, Children’s National Health System

  • Richard Nugent, MD, Clinician, CenseoHealth

  • Joshua Meyerson, MD, MPH, medical director, Health Department of NW Michigan

  • Nicholas Smyrnios, MD, ICU medical director, UMass Mememorial Medical Center

“These physicians are recognized for their admirable character, selfless dedication, and outstanding effort. Perpetually raising the bar for all, they help establish a higher standard quality of care,” per the American Health Council website.

What this means for you

To be honored as a top physician of the year is a remarkable achievement. Physicians who garner such accolades typically represent the full package: They not only help their patients but also their peers and community, leading by example with complete dedication to their craft.

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