UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center Magazine Fall 2015 - Page 10

center profile continued from page 15 Dr. Bhatia is working closely with the Cancer Center and Children’s of Alabama to establish a multidisciplinary program in cancer outcomes research. 16 U A B As a child growing up in India, Smita Bhatia, M.D., M.P.H., developed an interest in medicine at an early age. That interest, particularly in oncology, was sparked by the death of the son of her father’s colleague from a bone tumor when Dr. Bhatia was just seven years old. Her interest in medicine never waned, and Dr. Bhatia would go on to attend the renowned All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi where she received her medical degree. While there, she also discovered the field that would define much of her career – pediatrics. “As I was pursuing my medical degree, I discovered my love for children,” Dr. Bhatia says. “Children are relatively uncomplicated. Their attitude toward life is simple and fresh. I really enjoy that.” Dr. Bhatia’s interest in both pediatrics and cancer led her to choosing pediatric oncology as her specialty moving forward in her post-graduate career. Medical school also introduced her to her husband of nearly 30 years, Ravi Bhatia, M.D., who was also studying to become a doctor. The two shared a class together, and as Dr. Ravi Bhatia recalls, they “met around the dissection table.” The pair married and Dr. Bhatia gave birth to the first of their two daughters while still in India. The Bhatias’ lives were just beginning, but bigger things would soon be calling. A Culture Shock One of those bigger things was the United States. In 1989, Dr. Ravi Bhatia applied for and accepted a fellowship position in hematology-oncology at the University of Minnesota. It was a great opportunity, and the Bhatias made the decision to make the nearly 8,000-mile move from India to Minneapolis. Going from India to the American Midwest was a challenge for Dr. Bhatia. “It was a huge culture shock,” she recalls. “Just the little things, like driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and using the ATM, to weathering the Minnesota winter, which was quite hard in the beginning. But we were young, and it was an adventure.” C O M P R E H E N S I V E C A N C E R C E N T E R While her husband continued his training, Dr. Bhatia waited until their new home life was more established before joining the workforce herself. She, too, would eventually join the faculty at the University of Minnesota, where she completed a fellowship in pediatric hematology-oncology and bone marrow transplant. The Bhatias finished their training and joined the faculty at Minnesota, but after seven years, the time came for another move – from the heavy snow of Minnesota to the sunny skies of California. “We wanted an institution that offered challenging positions for both of us, and we found that at City of Hope in Los Angeles,” says Dr. Bhatia, who joined the faculty there in 1996 as an assistant professor of pediatric hematology-oncology. Both Drs. Bhatia would rise through the ranks at City of Hope, with Dr. Smita Bhatia eventually becoming a professor and chair of the Department of Population Sciences, which she established, as well as co-leader of the Cancer Control and Population Sciences Program. While there, she made significant scientific contributions toward identifying chronic health issues among cancer survivors. She established multidisciplinary survivorship clinics, providing cancer survivors with state-of-the-art comprehensive follow-up care. She also served as the associate chair for the Children’s Oncology Group, coordinating survivorship research across 200 pediatric oncology institutions, and in 2006, she was elected to membership in the American Society for Clinical Investigation in recognition of meritorious and outstanding contributions as a physician-scientist. New Opportunities After 18 years, and raising their two children, the Bhatias felt that the time had come for them to leave City of Hope to pursue other opportunities. “Because we had been at a free-standing cancer center for so long, we were missing the teaching component of an academic medical center,” Dr. Bhatia says. That feeling drove the Bhatias to explore opportunities in the university setting, which eventually led them to UAB where they were recruited by UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center director Ed Partridge, M.D., among several other UAB officials. After several visits, both Drs. Bhatia were successfully recruited to the Cancer Center, with their appointments effective January 1, 2015. While Dr. Ravi Bhatia serves as director of the UAB Division of Hematology-Oncology and deputy director of the Cancer Center, Dr. Smita Bhatia serves in the newly created position of associate director of outcomes research for the Cancer Center. She also holds new positions as director of the Institute for Cancer Outcomes and Survivorship in the UAB School of Medicine and vice chair for outcomes in the Department of Pediatrics. As such, Dr. Bhatia is working closely with the Cancer Center and Children’s of Alabama to establish a multidisciplinary program in cancer outcomes research, much like she did at City of Hope. Her goal, she says, is to create the world’s best cancer outcome center at UAB by bringing together specialists from multiple disciplines in both pediatric and adult medicine into one team with the common goal of improving cancer outcomes. Dr. Bhatia defines cancer outcomes as a measurable entity that shows how well one is performing with that particular disease. For example, outcomes in childhood leukemia would show the survival rate for children who have been diagnosed with leukemia after one, five or 10 years of treatment. Outcomes research also explores how the short- and long-term health of cancer survivors compares to those with normal health backgrounds. That type of research was the driving force behind the Taking on Life after Cancer (TLC) Clinic, established by UAB and Children’s in 2006, which sees patients after they have completed treatments to educate them about the long-term risks associated with their therapies. Dr. Bhatia is taking an active role with the TLC Clinic and hopes to expand it even further. “Rather than seeing cancer survivors only once after treatment, we want to bring them back on an annual basis for life to monitor them for longterm consequences,” Dr. Bhatia says. “We hope to understand the chronic health conditions experienced through the entire lifespan of cancer survivors. I would want to identify those survivors at the highest risk for morbidity, so that we can institute targeted interventions.” Looking Ahead Since officially joining the UAB faculty in January, Dr. Bhatia’s first year has been a whirlwind of activity – transitioning research protocols from City of Hope to UAB, initiating new research studies, launching a clinical practice, recruiting new faculty, and meetings – lots of meetings. “There are very few days where I don’t have wallto-wall meetings,” she says. “I’m trying to be more disciplined so I can at least devote the mornings to my own writing and research and then spend the rest of the day with meetings.” In what little spare time she does have, Dr. Bhatia enjoys knitting, which she finds calming and something she can do while reading or watching television. She says that she does try to take a break to read or watch television every night. “I’m not a binge watcher because I can’t indulge in endless hours of TV watching, but I like to have the whole season of something waiting for me rather than having to wait every week for the next episode,” she says. So far, Dr. Bhatia is enjoying her new life in Birmingham and sees great things ahead. “It’s been a beautiful transition – just amazing,” she says. “There hasn’t been a single day where I’ve woken up and thought ‘What have I done?’ Everyone has been extremely helpful and welcoming. It’s been very energizing, and I’m looking forward to a bright future here at UAB.” # K N O W U A B C C C • “It’s been very energizing, and I’m looking forward to a bright future here at UAB.” U A B . E D U / C A N C E R 17