Chair, Thoracic/Head and Neck Cancers Section, UF Health Cancer Center - Orlando Health
ORLANDO - When Kavita Pattani gave birth to her first child, she was a chief surgical resident whose focus on her career was laser-sharp. “I had him at 7:30 in the morning and by 10 a.m. I was making phone calls to check on my patients,” said Pattani, who only took off one week before returning fully to her duties at Louisiana State University’s Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery in Shreveport.
For her second and third children, Pattani “relaxed” and took off two weeks before returning to work. Now, as she plans the birth of her fourth son in May, Pattani laughs at the suggestion it might be time to consider a slightly longer postpartum break from work. “We’ll see,” she said.
That resolve is a clear reflection of the passion – and enduring intense focus – the 39-year-old has for her profession and her patients, then and now, as a head and neck surgical oncologist in the Thoracic/Head and Neck Cancers Specialty Section at UF Health Cancer Center – Orlando Health. That clinic is “the busiest at the cancer center in terms of patient flow,” said Pattani, who came here in 2010 after finishing a fellowship at John Hopkins in Baltimore. The center is staffed by three surgeons who consult about 120 patients a week. Pattani will see about 60 of those on her two days in the clinic, and the rest of the time she can be found in the operating room, where some surgeries can take 9-10 hours as she works with surgeons who specialize in plastics and dental reconstruction.
Still, Pattani hopes to grow the practice. “I would like to see (that department) continue to expand and gain the recognition it deserves. Through our multidisciplinary care and our excellent and dedicated staff, we are able to offer and uphold the standard of care with a state-of-the-art and evidence-based practice,” she said.
How did Pattani gravitate toward such a specialized surgical discipline? “I always wanted to be a physician,” said Pattani, the oldest of four children born and raised in Detroit and the daughter of a businessman and a registered nurse. “My parents were very influential in guiding my decision in becoming a physician and building a strong work ethic,” she said. “My parents … worked hard their entire lives in order to better their children’s futures. I saw them work opposing shifts my entire childhood in order to care for us and save for our future. I had the desire to make their dreams a reality.”
After graduating from the University of Michigan (dual majors in biology and economics), Pattani secured a Masters of Basic Medical Sciences at Wayne State University. Then she went to St. George’s University School of Medicine in Grenada, earning her MD in 2003. That is where she embraced the loves of her life: otolaryngology and Sanjay Pattani, a medical student who would become her husband and father of their children, now aged 7, 4 and 2.
Pattani knew long ago she wanted to be a surgeon. “I had done electives in many surgical subspecialties trying to find the right fit. My husband suggested I do an elective in otolaryngology. At first, I was hesitant since medical school training and your core rotations in the clinical portion do not really focus on this super-specialized field. But I gave it a chance. I loved it! I loved the anatomy, the broad scope, and the complexities of the field. I also loved that it was a competitive and challenging field, something I also have a drive for,” said Pattani. “My mentors in residency at LSU in Shreveport played a big part in propagating my interests. They … helped me develop the skills so I could pursue my fellowship at Johns Hopkins. From my first year as an intern to my last as a chief resident, I never faltered.”
Pattani left her mark on the faculty at LSU, as well. Cherie-Ann Nathan, MD is professor and chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, at LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport. She also is director of head and neck surgical oncology at the Feist-Weiller Cancer Center. Nathan remembers Pattani as “one of those physicians who has an infectious, dynamic personality. Her smile alone makes you notice her, even before you start talking to her. She is very succinct. She always said the appropriate things and she never beats around the bush. She has a surgeon’s personality and always paid attention to details. That is what distinguishes between being good and being the best – attention to detail,” Nathan said recently.
Like Pattani, Nathan is married to a physician and has raised children while excelling in a complex, competitive field. Nathan “was a huge influence,” said Pattani. “I could always see myself succeeding in a demanding field (as Nathan has.)”
Nathan remembers Pattani as “one of my best students ever, one of the most dynamic and technically gifted surgeons par excellence I have had the pleasure of training. … My greatest regret is that she did stay in academics because she would have been a great role model for aspiring physicians and women surgeons.”
Pattani credits her husband Sanjay, an emergency room physician who also is chairman of the Emergency Department at Florida Hospital Waterman, as being integral to both her professional and personal success.
“I owe a lot to him for pushing me to explore out of the box. We have always been a major support for each other. We have pushed each other to reach our maximum potentials. We guide each other and partake in each other’s successes. It is crucial to me, as a successful female surgeon, to have a supportive husband,” she said.
Balancing a healthy family and social life with a demanding career is not easy, she said, but “through the continued and unfailing support of my family, I have been able to overcome this challenge.”
Pattani’s passion outside the OR and her home is nurturing her Indian culture. In addition to English, she speaks Hindi and Punjabi, all of which were used in her home as a child. For the past two years, she has taught Hindi in Sunday school.
Pattani also is an accomplished Bollywood dancer and choreographer, a talent she demonstrated when she won the Miss India Michigan crown in 1996 and 1997, and later competed in the Miss India USA and Miss India Worldwide pageants. She also was the lead female vocalist in a 2001 Hindi film. “If I were able to live a dual life, (singing and dancing) would be what I would pursue,” she said.
“I feel fortunate I am able to balance and embrace the Indian culture. I have the advantage of (actively) promoting the Indian culture and also loving every moment of being ALL American. Having the ability to take what I feel is good and right from both cultures has made me the person I am (and) helps me with my professional and personal interactions.”