Choosing an Oncologist: Traits to Look for in Your Doctor

Choosing an Oncologist: Traits to Look for in Your Doctor

With a cancer diagnosis, a flood of emotions takes over.





In moments like this, your doctor becomes both your captain and your cheerleader. They will be with you through both the triumphs and hardships of recovery.

Because of this, it is so important to make sure you choose an oncologist that you will have the utmost confidence in. You should have complete trust in their discernment, especially because trust works both ways. Their guidance for your treatment only works if you adhere to their recommendations for you.

The worst thing is to second guess your doctor.

But trust can be hard to build, especially when someone directly oversees your health but cannot truly know the struggles that you are experiencing with treatment. However, there are a few traits to recognize that your doctor has nothing but your best interest in mind.

Developing this trust early in treatment can really make the difference in your outcome and result in a powerful doctor-patient relationship.

My doctor at Kaiser Permanente, Dr. Rukmani Raghunathan, was a powerful advocate for me and quickly established a trusting relationship with my family.

So, I wanted to take a moment to show you how we knew she was the best person to manage my treatment. There were many ways that she developed a trusting relationship with us and I wanted to highlight 3 of them so you can look for these traits in your doctor as well.

1. Compassion for patients – even with the smallest of things

Nothing is more important than compassion. But for many patients, it can be hard to identify. It is revealed in subtle actions that doctors take to care for their patients.

Compassion is shown not spoken.

I immediately recognized the compassion that my doctor had for her patients just from her introduction to our family.

After I was diagnosed, Dr. Rukmani introduced herself as “Dr. Ruki” to my family. My dad, instantly curious by this, asked why she said that instead of her real name. She quickly responded that her younger patients sometimes struggled to say her full last name and only managed Dr. Ruki.

It stuck. So, she decided to go by “Dr. Ruki” instead.

This didn’t really affect us but it immediately revealed her character as a doctor. She cared less about what people called her and more about their ability to easily communicate with her.

She had the utmost compassion for her patients and this truly made the difference in my outcome.

2. Medically competent

Without a doubt, this is one of the most crucial components needed to fully trust in your doctor.

All of the doctors I met at Kaiser were undeniably skilled and experienced.

Leading the way was Dr. Ruki. In the early days of my treatment, my dad and I had a conversation with some of the nurses in the clinic. They told us stories of how Dr. Ruki was so talented and experienced that she could immediately recognize symptoms and diagnose the problem before testing even came back.

When it came to actual procedures, she was gentle, thoughtful, and precise. She made sure her patients were treated with care and as little pain as possible.

As a part of my treatment, I had frequent Lumbar Punctures scheduled. This procedure draws spinal fluid from the lower back (with a GIANT needle) in order to run diagnostic checks and administer chemotherapy to my cerebrospinal fluid. I would be given oral medication to sedate me and lessen the pain during the treatment. I would be pretty drowsy and nauseous. I quickly dreaded these lumbar punctures because of how I felt after and had to be under observation for another hour or two before I could go home.

After the first two lumbar punctures, Dr. Ruki recognized that I hated them. But more, specifically, she noticed that I really disliked the effects of the drugs. So, without me even needing to bring up my discomfort, she asked me if I would prefer to try without the oral medication and instead tolerate a little pain with just some local anesthesia instead. I found this to be so much better.

This ability to recognize a patients needs and provide solutions to problems is what you should always look for in a doctor.

3. Valuing Quality of Life through Treatment

For doctors, their goal is get you through treatment and push you towards recovery. But sometimes, this can lead to a scenario in which the doctor and patient are not aligned in how aggressive the treatment plan should be.

With constant hospital visits and a variety of drugs, it can easily have an effect on the patient’s mindset and a short break from everything can really help to reset a patient’s motivation.

It’s critical that your doctor is able to realize when you need a break.

Dr. Ruki was definitely aware of the importance of this. In the course of my treatment, I had to undergo an intensive bout of chemotherapy in the hospital. I had to be administered intravenously with these huge bags of Methotrexate. I hated being in the hospital but being administered with this drug completely broke my spirit. I just wanted to go home.

When Dr. Ruki came to check on me, I told her that I couldn’t endure this and wanted to go home.

She sat by my bed, looked at my chart and began to encourage me. Dr. Ruki explained where my numbers needed to be then tore out a piece of the chart. She scribbled down the goal I needed to achieve along with her home phone number and told me to call her when I reach that goal. That way, she could advise the nurses to discharge me immediately and so I didn't have to wait till she visited the next day.

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My entire family was shocked by this. A doctor giving out their personal number to a patient was so rare and really spoke to how selfless she was.

Dr. Ruki understood my experience as a patient and that really helped to motivate me through the course of treatment.

The Power of Creating a Lasting Relationship with Your Doctor

A doctor can become more than just a doctor.

To me, Dr. Ruki became my supporter, mentor, friend, guardian, and role model.

She was one of many individuals who went out of their way to put my recovery first. Her actions led to my family quickly trusting her staff and reciprocating the love care she gave us.

My family decided to throw a big birthday bash to celebrate my 11th birthday, a few months after I was diagnosed. We invited our friends, family, neighbors, and all the nurses and doctors that treated me.

It was in this moment that we saw just how much the staff at Kaiser cared for me. They all showed up to celebrate with a patient outside of work.

We invited Dr. Ruki as well but she was attending a wedding in another city, about forty minutes away. Yet she managed to stop by.

Dr. Ruki could only stay for a little while before heading back to the wedding but we felt so loved that she went through the hassle of driving out just to celebrate that moment with me. Her actions never ceased to astound our family because we never expected our pediatrician to become such a close family friend.

Dr. Ruki’s actions re-energized my determination to recover. She exemplified how doctors should treat their patients - with care and commitment.

She was one of the many empathetic, qualified doctors I had in my journey towards recovery and I hope that your doctor shares these traits.


About the Author

Keane Veran was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at the age of 10. After becoming a survivor, he co-founded OURA to bring healthy solutions to other cancer patients with self-cleaning, healthy headwear that grants wishes.