The Art of Medicine
Maybe it was because “doctor” was one of her first words. Or maybe the Fischer-Price microscope kit she got for her fifth birthday did it. Having physicians in the family and being interested in science and math certainly didn’t hurt, and, just as she always planned, Suki Subbiah, M.D., graduated from the University of Florida medical school and completed her internal medicine residency and her hematology/oncology fellowship there in 2012.
During her residency, her aunt was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.
“I had never considered oncology as a career until I saw the difficulties and challenges she faced with her treatment and end-of-life care,” Dr. Subbiah says. “Going through that process with my family made me aware of oncology from a patient perspective … it really shaped what I started pursuing.”
Her new position with LSU Hematology and Oncology allows her the opportunity to take care of lymphoma and blood cancer patients, while, at the same time, teach cancer fellowship students and work in research.
“LSU is pursuing some amazing research opportunities that I’m excited to be a part of,” Dr. Subbiah says. “They’re really promoting clinical trials and the accessibility of patients to those trials.” Most promising, she says, are the immunotherapy trials, which improve a patient’s immune system in an effort to fight cancer, as an innovative alternative to the side effects of more traditional chemotherapy. “It’s time for improvement in that area.”
She’s also looking forward to working with the highly skilled physicians in the oncology group at LSU. “It’s a group of really kind, really intelligent physicians and it’s just great to be a part of a team that is so caring about their patients and interested in advancing the field even further,” she says. “At the same time, we are quite realistic about our limitations and we are always working to improve that … always working to provide the best care we can.”
Dr. Subbiah says there’s been such advancements in cancer care — even in the past four years since her fellowship — that an absolute standard in cancer care one day might become obsolete the next. It’s more than fine with her that the field is moving forward at such a good pace and that research is staying competitive. What doesn’t change, she says, is the “art of medicine” and the need to train fellows on delicate patient issues. The most important aspect is how to talk to patients about end-of-life care, one of the more challenging aspects of her job.
But that attention to patient-centered care is also one of her favorite aspects of her chosen field. A medical oncologist of blood cancers is pivotal and involved in patient care from start to finish. You can’t rely on surgery to cure a blood cancer. “It can be really hard when a patient seems more like a family member; you get so emotionally attached … as long as you’re able to cope with the outcomes, it’s almost essential to become emotionally attached,” Dr. Subbiah says. “[The good news is] in general it’s a very curable disease — the treatments we have actually work — and I’m very interested in working for the cure.”
Dr. Subbiah is often mistaken for a high schooler — she looks young for her age and is petite too. So when a patient told her recently that the best decision he ever made was to take her seriously, she was flattered. “Sometimes it might be difficult to see me as someone with authority or someone informed,” she says. “To compensate for this, I try to be as knowledgeable as I can in the area of oncology. I try to be purposeful in the words I use so I can engage my patients and gain their confidence. I want to be someone they are comfortable coming to for their care.”
It’s a goal she’s been aiming for since she first uttered that fateful word: doctor.
LSU Hematology & Oncology
3700 St. Charles Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70115
Undergraduate Degree: B.A. Philosophy, Emory University, Atlanta
Medical School: University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla.
Residency: Internal Medicine, University of Florida
Fellowship: Hematology/Oncology, University of Florida
Board Certification: Internal Medicine, Hematology and Medical Oncology