David Greuner in "A Man of Chance" for "The Power Issue"

By Marianna Milkis
Photography Pavel Denisenko Styling Colin Anderson

David Anthony Greuner, M.D., 39, doesn’t gamble, he takes risks. As a matter of fact, this cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon, who specializes in modern, minimally invasive techniques, takes risks so ruthless that they left him homeless, tested his trust, and subsequently gave him a skill set that allowed him to build one of the most successful private practices in New York City, no easy feat.  

One of the “most beautiful” doctors in the country according to the TV show The Doctors, David sits by the pool sprinkled with the first batch of parched leaves in his house in East Hampton; two Cane Corsos flanking his feet. “Believe it or not, I was an Economics major,” — smiles the man whose lifestyle can be a vision board postcard for any aspiring doctor. “I was always fascinated by the human body and how it worked, but I never planned to be a doctor, let alone a heart surgeon.” What David Greuner did plan was to open a chain of gyms and health clubs, due to his love of health and fitness. This led him to study anatomy and physiology and escalated to “so many of these classes under my belt that I met most criteria for medical school entrance.” He thought it was a waste not to finish, and still had a lot of learning to do. 

Graduating from St. George’s University School of Medicine in Grenada, West Indies, could have been a beginning of a steady career climb, but instead, Greuner’s life, as he playfully puts it, “took a little bit of a roller coaster type trajectory.” In the midst of his internship he lost his job and for nearly a year had to rely on others for a place to crash, a challenging ordeal for someone with his breadth of ambition. Sleeping on friends’ couches while pursuing a dubious medical career was “rather depressing and quite humbling, to say the least.” It is at that time that he learned one of the most important lessons: to associate happiness not with money, but with the people that surround him. “I was able to realize that while the lack of money can certainly make things more difficult for you in life, the presence of it does not at all bring happiness. I know it is very cliché, but happiness does indeed come from within.”

For someone else, a setback so large would be a sign to give up. For Greuner, it was a sign to start poring over the classifieds for anything to help him get back on track. He found a position with one of his previous mentors. The role was below his level of training but still hard to obtain without significant experience, but it was a way to get back on track. He took the position with no guarantees to proceed after one year. Through honesty and determination, he landed a permanent position despite fierce competition. “To this day, I am grateful to this man for his willingness to take a chance on me.” He scratches the ear of the arctic seal gray mastiff Bella. As the animal stirs, he adds: “I learned from this experience, that most people do deserve a chance or at least to be evaluated for consideration. While it is true that most will not fully exploit opportunities presented to them, there are chosen few who will and who deserve the chance to do so. Many people ask me why I am so eager to help others. Now you know, because someone helped me. Someone took a chance, when no one else would.”

Greuner made a good use of this chance dedicating “every waking minute, and some sleeping ones” to doing the very best he could, and upon graduation was voted the example for future generations of chief residents to pattern themselves after. But, once immersed in the world of hospital medicine as a fully trained surgeon, the future pioneer quickly became disconcerted with the operational standards and politics of big hospitals. With a desire to provide a better patient experience, administratively, functionally, and clinically, Greuner took another leap of faith. 

He founded a private practice in New York City requiring weekly travels from Boston, where he then lived and worked. Soon enough, he sold his apartment, and moved to New York full-time after he dumped his life savings into the project. He also quit his job, which over the years has grown to sustain him in a very comfortable way. A year later he was deep in the red with roughly $2 million in debt. The doubt began to creep in again. Did he do the right thing? But, according to Greuner, “at the core of all controlled risk is comprehensive knowledge of your opponent or the problem at hand.” His was the need to keep going, despite all odds. “By definition, you will exclude most participants by nature of larger risk, making the yields higher. Mathematically, yields are always higher when fewer participants are in the pool,” says Greuner on why, in his opinion, his ruthless game became a winning one. “I enjoy the fear of uncertainty, and I am very competitive by nature. The feel of risking it all and winning is truly addictive.”

For someone who built the fastest growing surgical practice in the New York area, David Greuner is enviably nonchalant. He describes his work as a source of “tremendous amount of creative autonomy”, dismissing the contradictory nature of this statement for his field. The creativity he finds comes from treating high-risk patients in a not-”cookie cutter” way, applying cutting edge techniques and out of the box thinking for each case with astonishing results. “I genuinely enjoy the person I am and find no need to change my personality to fit any particular stereotype. I’m a very happy go lucky, altruistic and spontaneous person by nature, and these aspects of my personality have brought me into some amazing situations in life that would have never happened should I be more reserved.”     

Answering to what kept him going through all the tribulations, the doctor pauses for a moment. “Pride and self-respect are my primary driving factors,” he says.  Two qualities that in the best of us have to be earned. You cannot purchase them, you cannot be gifted them, they have to be earned. David Greuner proves that one doesn’t just stumble upon a life of fulfillment and wealth; one must hit the rock bottom more than once and push back up time and time again. “Believe it or not, I don’t gamble. I prefer a more controlled environment that I can have an influence over, say, strictly rolling the dice. So I suppose I may be a little more risk-averse than I thought!” Well, if you put it this way, Doctor.   

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