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Stars of Stanford Medicine: “Are people getting the right care?”

This Stars of Stanford Medicine Q&A features otolaryngologist Vasu Divi who is interested in health care equity and quality.

In 2012, Vasu Divi, MD, left his home state of Michigan and moved across the country to join Stanford Medicine. The otolaryngologist and cancer surgeon says he liked what he found: lovely California weather and the fast-paced San Francisco Bay Area. I checked in with him to learn more.

How did you get into medicine?

I was always interested in science. A few years back, the University of Michigan had a combined undergraduate science and medical school program... I got into that program, but I didn’t know if it was what I wanted to do yet.

I delayed my medical school start and did a couple years in management consulting... In the end, I realized that if I was going to be in health care, I wanted to be a physician first and then a business person.

Are you still pursuing your business interests at Stanford?

I wouldn’t call it business, but I’ve been recently involved with the quality improvement efforts we have been pursuing in the cancer program.

I also recently completed the Stanford Clinical Effectiveness Leadership Training program, which is a course where you take on a project to work on over the course of five months.

How did you get into otolaryngology?

When I went into residency, I thought I was going to do ears and hearing-related work, and then, I ended up specializing in head and neck cancer and reconstruction... It was much more fascinating to me.

Head and neck cancer is a unique disease. It robs people of the things we take for granted — the ability to speak, swallow, and interact... You can get stomach cancer or liver cancer and you can't see it, but having something on your face is just very different. The ability to do reconstructive surgery can provide a lot of benefit to a patient’s life.

I understand this involves 3-D printing. Could you tell me about it?

Yes, we do a lot of 3-D printing... Then when we get to the operating room, they give us the model of what our intended outcome is going to be and a metal plate that is bent to that. That metal plate is the scaffold... Having the metal already bent and predesigned speeds things up and makes the whole process fluid.

What is biggest challenge in your field?

Quality of life has improved, yet one quarter of our patients are going to recur... That’s the hardest part: Even if you hit it with your best surgery, best radiation, best chemo, it's not going to cure. Dealing with that is hard. Especially with patients I’ve seen for a while and have gotten closer to.

What is the most fulfilling part of your job?

It's fulfilling seeing people after they’ve gotten out of the acute phase of treatment, who are building a new life and who have come to accept their new normal and are thriving... There is nothing more rewarding than having a really difficult case turn out well.

What is your ultimate career goal?

My ultimate goal is to make a meaningful impact on our specialty and improve the way we take care of patients... To make sure it is fair and equitable for all patients and that they get high quality care and the care that they need. The question of medicine is 'Are people getting the right care?'

How do you unwind?

Mostly running — running at the gym. I love movies and traveling... I like learning random new things. I’ll pick a topic and just dive into it.

What do your colleagues not know about you?

I lived on a small island off the coast of Costa Rica for a month as a volunteer park ranger before grad school... It was cool and amazingly beautiful.

Do you have a role model?

I would say that I admire little pieces of a lot of people... and I’ve formed a collective role model from those parts.

Stars of Stanford Medicine is a new series introducing readers to some standout scholars in the School of Medicine.

Previously: Stars of Stanford Medicine: Poetry lover and aspiring physician-scientist and Stars of Stanford Medicine: In pursuit of the "Aha!" discoveries
Photo by Alyssa Tamboura

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