“I believe in quality over quantity,” said otolaryngologist, Dr. Rohan Walvekar. “I would rather treat 15 patients extremely well than treat 30 and be stretched thin.” That is precisely what Dr. Walvekar does at the New Orleans Head & Neck Center. He is one of five highly specialized otolaryngologists who practice at the innovative new medical facility, which serves patients with unusual, advanced and complex head and neck ailments.
How did you choose your specialty?
I was always interested in surgery, but during my residency in India, I got involved in otolaryngology. I came to appreciate the great potential to make things better for patients. Treating cancer is difficult but also very rewarding; you feel like you are contributing to a social problem.
What is your role at the Head & Neck Center?
I am trained as an otolaryngologist and my sub-specialty is head and neck oncology and surgery. I have a particular interest in minimally invasive surgery for the salivary glands, also known as sialendoscopy. Whereas giant stones have traditionally required complete removal of the salivary gland, we can now use small endoscopes to enter the ducts of the salivary glands and this allows us to keep the glands intact.
In 2010, I took this a step further, and was the first surgeon to successfully combine salivary endoscopic guidance with robotics. In this case, the robot was guided by a small salivary endoscope to remove a 20mm salivary stone and repair the salivary duct.
These minimally invasive techniques not only save the salivary gland, but also reduce blood loss, scarring and hospital stay.
What is your philosophy regarding patient care?
I like to take care of patients like they are my family. It’s important to be objective, offer advice and then give them the time to make informed decisions for themselves. Care should be patient-centric and individualized to each patient’s needs.
Do you have other roles outside of your ENT practice?
I also teach residents and medical students and I have participated in quite a bit of medical research. It is a way of auditing what we’re doing and it helps us better understand what is happening to our patients and how they are responding to certain treatments.
I work with the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance to coordinate free oral cancer screenings for the community several times a year. Michael Douglas’ experience with oral cancer brought attention to the disease and now we get a lot of people coming in who want to be screened for it. Oral cancers can be especially disruptive as they affect day-to-day functions like swallowing and speech.
I also try to make things better in my field through medical device innovation. I invented a salivary duct stent that can be used to hold open the salivary duct after salivary gland surgery.
ABOUT MY PRACTICE
What is your average day—if you have one?
I wake up early, around 5:00 a.m., to try to catch up on whatever I have pending. Then I spend the rest of the day in clinic or in surgery. I try to stay focused so that I can come home at a reasonable hour to spend time with my family. It’s important to me that I have a balanced life and take care of myself. If I’m content with my life and with what I’m doing, then I can provide the best care for my patients.
What are your most challenging surgical cases?
Every surgery is a challenge. Every single case is different in terms of the patient’s expectations, tumor and anatomy, among other things. This is why I feel it’s crucial to individualize treatment for every patient. What do they expect from surgery? Do they understand what is involved and what structures will be affected? Do they know how soon they will return to “normal,” or if they ever will? If a patient doesn’t understand these things, he or she will not be satisfied after surgery.
Whenever possible, I have patients talk to other patients so they get an idea of what will happen. Especially when I have a patient who is anxious about surgery, I’ll try to arrange a telephone interview with another patient who has been through the process.
What do you like most about your job?
I like having the privilege of taking care of people and making a significant impact in their lives, which I have the unique opportunity to do so on a day-to-day basis. There is no greater satisfaction than seeing patients several years after surgery and knowing that I helped them through a very difficult time in their lives.
3700 St. Charles Avenue
New Orleans, LA, 70115
T.N. Medical College, Mumbai, India
Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, India, Head & Neck Surgical Oncology, 2003-2005
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pennsylvania, PA, Advanced & Head Neck Surgery, 2006-2008
Louisiana State University Medical Center, New Orleans, LA, Skull Base Fellowship, 2008-2009
Head & Neck Oncology
Endoscopic Thyroid Surgery