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Interview with Dr. Stevie Otis


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Interview with Dr. Stevie Otis

What inspired you to choose hematology oncology as your specialty in medicine?

Originally when I graduated high school, I wanted to be a physics major, so I focused initially on astrophysics during my time at Caltech. In my junior year I wanted to enroll in an astrobiology class, but I had to take some prerequisite biology courses. This is how I started taking college level biology—and one class led to another.

A new spark was lit within me, and I found molecular biology and genetics fascinating. I decided to apply to medical school, thinking I would probably end up doing science research. It wasn’t until my third and fourth year of medical school, when I began clinical rotations in the hospital, that everything changed again. That intangible force that I saw within my dad started stirring inside me. I wanted to take care of people. I was meant to take care of people.

Was there anyone who influenced you specifically?

My dad was my inspiration. He was a hematologist oncologist in private practice for over 30 years. I started working in his office at a very young age.

When I was 10, he would give me stacks of blank flowsheets for the patient charts. I would apply reinforcement stickers over the hole punches to keep the papers from getting torn out of the charts. As I grew up, I was given more jobs like filing, working the front desk, answering phones and scheduling follow-up appointments. Eventually I started rooming patients, taking vitals and learning to draw blood. At the time I was not interested in becoming a doctor because the hours were long, and the job seemed too intense.

He was always on the go, never seemed to stop and relax but there were so many moments that deeply impacted me — even if I didn’t realize it at the time. I remember countless patients telling me how grateful they were for his care, how much it meant to them to know he was by their side in the biggest fight of their lives. They described him as the kindest, most caring man they had ever met (not at all the strict disciplinarian I knew!).

There was one moment that stands out. I remember sitting at the front desk and seeing an exam room door open down the hall. My dad and an older couple stepped out of the room. My dad’s eyes were red as if he had been fighting back tears. The older man put his hand on my dad’s shoulder as if he were comforting him, while his wife gave my dad a long hug.

After they left, I asked my dad what happened and he explained that after 10-years of treating the gentleman’s disease, he had no more treatment to offer, and the disease would run its course. As my dad delivered the news, the patient and his wife could see how heartbroken he was that there was no more left to offer. That moment of the family comforting my dad is etched into my memory.

Why do you believe it’s important to take “care beyond the bedside?”

The field of oncology and hematology is not an easy one. I am often asked, “How do you do it?” The truth is, I have the best job in the world. I get to be a part of a journey with each of my patients and their families.

I get to witness the strength, courage and love they discover when faced with a devastating diagnosis. Not every journey ends happily, but if I walk by my patients’ side every step of the way, it is no less fulfilling. It is that deep human connection that makes this job so meaningful.

In 2015 cancer hit home within my family. My mother was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. She needed everything – chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy, hormone blockade and chemo pills. I was so humbled and proud to watch her rally and say, “Let’s do this.” It wasn’t easy, but she soldiered through all her treatment. My mother was so strong. Not just for herself, but for my dad who was showing signs of dementia.

Her care team was based at Providence St. Joseph Hospital: Michele Carpenter, M.D., was her breast surgeon, Robert Ash, M.D., was her radiation oncologist, and Linda Zeineh, M.D., was her plastic surgeon. At the time I was relatively new to the hospital and hardly knew any of her doctors, but they treated her like everyone else — a VIP. That experience underscored how important it is for your care team to be “all in.”

This is something uniquely pervasive at Providence St. Joseph. For my colleagues, it’s not just a job — It’s a calling. And for this reason, I have gone “all in” for the hospital.

I have joined the Foundation Board of Directors and moved my practice into the new Helen Caloggero Women’s and Family Center because that intangible force I discovered so many years ago in my dad’s office, permeates the halls of Providence St. Joseph.

From the caregivers who deliver breakfast to our nurses and doctors, they have all answered the call to care for their dear neighbor. I want to support this wonderful place in every way I can. The most important aspect of medical care is the human spirit and I want to make sure that connection is not lost.

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Providence St. Joseph Hospital supporters gathered to celebrate the grand opening for the Helen Caloggero Women’s and Family Center.

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Call: 714-347-7900
1010 West La Veta, Suite 300 – Orange, CA 92868
Email: sjofoundation@providence.org

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