Swedish volunteer Tucker Price is a pre-med student who has developed a strong interest in oncology. He spent time getting to know Dr. Patel to gain meaningful insights on innovative treatments, challenges and helping blood cancer patients.
T: What inspired you to enter medicine in the first place?
P: I always knew myself to be interested in science when I was a kid. While in high school, I realized what I really enjoyed learning about was biology and life sciences. I worked during high school in a local medical office where I had the chance to shadow physicians and nurses. The personal engagement they had with patients was inspiring and so [medicine] became a marriage of my curiosities in life sciences and my desire to be around people in that capacity.
T: What has been most challenging for you in your career in medicine?
P: I specialize in the care of patients with blood cancers and what I enjoy about that is also what makes it challenging. In lymphoma, the goal is often to cure the patient and they go on to live the rest of their life and get to do things they thought they wouldn't get to. On the other hand, there are patients of mine where we felt like we had a good chance to cure them but because the biology of their disease was different and the treatments were not as effective as we wanted, we weren't able to. That can be really hard because it feels like a failure and it's not a failure of the patient or the provider but a failure of our better knowledge of cancer biology because not all patients who have lymphoma are the same, so that can be very challenging.
T: How has your approach to care changed since finishing fellowship?
P: When I started in medicine, I thought my role was to cure every patient I met. While my desire to do that has not changed, I realized my goal is to help every patient I see. What that means is, if I can't help them with the primary goal of curing their disease, we still help the patient have the best quality of life. Sometimes that means realizing when we should stop our treatments when the treatments themselves are having a negative effect on the patient's quality of life. When I was a trainee, my goal was to cure everybody and that if I didn't I had failed. Now I feel like I failed when I haven't helped somebody.
T: Are there goals you have for the next 10 years at Swedish?
P: One thing that has changed as I've gone on in my training is the passion for doing research. Here at Swedish we do a lot of phase 1 trials, sometimes helping to test drugs that are being used for the very first time in patients. It's something that I really enjoy doing because it has a direct benefit to my patients. I’ve had the chance to offer treatment to a patient that’s investigational when we might not have had other standard treatments. Continuing to make new treatments available to patients and to help us better understand how and when we should use these is what I hope to grow in the next 10 years.
T: If you had the ability to conjure up large funds for cancer care, what area is most in need of focus?
P: If you ask ten different oncologists I think they would all give you different answers. For me, it's great to have clinical trials but they are often only offered in specialty centers, so access to those kinds of care is very difficult for patients that have to travel. Even if they can travel, they need to be in the area of the specialty center for long periods of time. If I had more money to throw at the problem, it would be trying to improve access to clinical trials. That might include funding transportation for patients, providing housing. In the ideal world, we would want people to have access to these trials in their own communities. There could be some way of partnering with oncologist that are closer to these communities where people don’t have access to these treatments.