Road Map to Quality of Care

Faculty Spotlight - Kavitha Ramchandran, MD

Kavitha Ramchandran, MD

Kavitha Ramchandran, MD, knows a few things about helping people. In the small southern California town where she grew up, she volunteered in Alzheimer’s homes and worked with the homeless. Today, as Assistant Professor in the Division of General Medical Disciplines and Oncology, trained in palliative care, she is at the heart of a team of health professionals providing an integrated approach to caring for patients with cancer.

During an interview she spoke about her research, her long range goals, and one unique and interesting hobby.

Q: Why did you decide to focus on cancer?

Kavitha Ramchandran: As a medical student I studied with a solo practitioner and oncologist who talked to his patients about things other medical therapies. He asked about their lives and gave them a hug. He knew about soccer games, and spring breaks.  I knew that I wanted that kind of relationship with the people I cared for. I was also drawn to the way a life limiting illness changes your perspective. Although, nobody needs, wants, or should have a cancer diagnosis it does make people think about what is most important.

Q: What is the most satisfying aspect of your work?

KR: I enjoy caring for patients. It is gratifying to reassure someone who is terrified of a new diagnosis of cancer and to see the sense of relief that comes into a person’s face when they meet someone who says, “We can help make a plan to make you better.” Sometimes that is in the realm of palliative therapy, with improvements in quality of life, and other times it is with the goal of curing people of their disease.  In either scenario, we have the opportunity to become a partner in their lives.

I also love working with a palliative care team that includes a multidisciplinary group (physician, nurse, social worker). The palliative care team is about care for the whole patient, as well as the needs of their family and caregiving team, from the point of diagnosis of a life-limiting or advanced illness.

Q: Your research covers a broad spectrum. What areas excite you the most?

KR: I have a dual interest in thoracic oncology and palliative care. My research bridges those two areas. Through research in the areas of prognostication and communication the goal is improvement in quality of care for patients. For example, we are currently studying to see if videos help people understand discussions around advance care planning and doing a pilot intervention to see if early social work intervention improves the multi-disciplinary care of patients with lung cancer.

I also recruit for clinical trials in thoracic oncology with my colleagues Joel Neal, MD, and Heather Wakelee, MD,  for therapeutic interventions that test new molecular targeted drugs for sub-populations of patients with certain mutations.

Q: What are some of your long range goals?

KR: I would like to see the integration between palliative care and oncology for all patients; to weave palliative care into the fabric of clinical care for every cancer patient.  Additionally I hope to grow a research niche at Stanford Cancer Institute where we continue to improve the evidence base for supportive care (e.g. pain, nausea, cachexia) and provide new therapies to improve patient’s quality of life while on anti-cancer therapy. Another goal is to grow as a leader and team member, be a good role model, and learn from the people around me, especially my patients.

Q: What would people be surprised to know about you?

KR:  I’m not shoe or makeup person…but I do like interesting cars. Recently my husband surprised me with a Tesla Model S. My kids are excited about this because they have two special seats in the trunk all to themselves.