As chief of hematology and medical oncology at the Cancer Therapy & Research Center, Dr. Anand Karnad carries a heavy patient load. But he never loses sight of the most important part of his job: the patient in front of him.

The secret to healing

Monday, January 26, 2015by Elizabeth Allen

Dr. Anand Karnad has access to the best technologies and the latest cancer drugs, but he knows that no matter what therapies are out there, there’s one crucial element to medical care that never changes.

“At no point in history has it been more important to be a good physician,” said Anand Karnad, M.D. “We have all these tests. Technologies. ‘Lab on a chip.’ But when you have cancer, you need a person to sit and talk with you.”

As chief of hematology and medical oncology at the Cancer Therapy & Research Center at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, Dr. Karnad sees many patients, and he makes it a point to connect with every one of them, sometimes even visiting their homes.

“It’s the most important reason for my existence, isn’t it? At work? We have a calling to heal the sick. That’s why I went to medical school in the first place.”

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A timeless principle

Dr. Karnad grabbed a worn biography from his office bookshelf. The book’s subject, Dr. Francis Weld Peabody, practiced a century ago. Even then, he had virtually the same critique of medicine that Dr. Karnad has now.

Referring to Dr. Peabody’s 1927 essay, "The Care of the Patient", Dr. Karnad said it’s no wonder the focus of medicine is more on the science of healing than its art “when one considers the amazing progress of science in its relation to medicine during the last 30 years, and the enormous mass of scientific material which must be made available to the modern physician.”

Still, he emphasized, “The secret of the care of the patient is caring for the patient.”

Experiencing true patient care

Doris Dettling would agree.

Dettling learned one afternoon last autumn that she had a B-cell lymphoma in her elbow. After giving her the news, her physician reached for the phone and dialed Dr. Karnad, who said he would see her right away.

“This was 4 o’clock on a Friday afternoon,” Dettling said. “He waited for us. He kept the staff there.”

Before Dettling and her husband left the CTRC that evening, she had been scheduled for a bone marrow test, echocardiogram, CT scan, “everything.”

“That’s when I knew I was going to be okay,” she said. “He handled everything with such proficiency. They always had answers for any questions I had, and gave me answers to questions I didn’t know I was supposed to ask.”

Everyone matters

Another thing that impressed Dettling was the way Dr. Karnad treats others.

“He’s very respectful to all of his co-workers. When his assistant came in to help take out the bone marrow he introduced her as ‘the world’s best.’ That makes a big difference, when someone respects his co-workers.”

Dettling is something of a joker, and, while Dr. Karnad was digging into the back of her hip bone for a bone marrow sample, she told him a little number involving an ambulance and a big toe.

“He had to stop for a minute, he was laughing so hard,” she said. “Now he asks me all the time, ‘You got anything new?’ He has such a sweet, pretty smile for a doctor that deals with such life-or-death situations.”