Jul 09, 2013
ASCOconnection.org welcomes a new commentator—S. Yousuf Zafar, MD, MHS, is an Assistant Professor and gastrointestinal oncologist at Duke Cancer Institute. He is a faculty member at the Duke Clinical Research Institute and Director of Health Policy at the Center for Learning Health Care. Dr. Zafar is also a health services researcher with interests in the cost of care and how costs affect patients with cancer. His current work in this arena is focused on patient preferences regarding cost-related communication and decision-making. Dr. Zafar serves on ASCO’s Health Disparities and Clinical Practice Guideline Committees.
AC: What drew you to oncology?
Dr. Zafar: First, the patients. As oncologists, we go through a lot together with patients and their families. Dr. Jamie Von Roenn wrote a memorable piece on ASCOconnection.org about the reaction she got from someone who discovered she was an oncologist (“Oh, that must be so hard!”). Her piece resonated with me—as I’m sure it did with most oncologists—because no one else can understand how rewarding those relationships can be.
Second, the research. I concentrated in sociology in college, and since then, developed an interest in the social interactions that underlie everything we do in medicine. As a health services researcher, I can tap into my inner sociologist when asking questions about how we make decisions about care.
AC: What is your current health services research about?
Dr. Zafar: I’m interested in how the cost of cancer care affects patients. We are living a defining moment in health care delivery, and not a day goes by without new analyses of the Affordable Care Act’s impact. But what can get lost in all the high-level debate is how patients with cancer, day after day, struggle with bills despite having insurance. If we can find a way to identify these patients faster and get them some help, might we improve their lives and their cancer care along the way?
AC: Why did you want to become a columnist on ASCOconnection.org?
Dr. Zafar: I read some fantastic posts by current bloggers, and I realized this was a wonderful opportunity to write about cancer in a different voice than what I’m used to in journal articles. Posts on ASCOconnection.org are often personal in style and content, and that’s a great strength.
AC: What should readers look forward to with your commentary?
Dr. Zafar: I will likely write more on costs and cancer care, but I also want to share my thoughts as a medical oncologist. In clinic we experience such a tremendous range of emotions; writing about these experiences in this public format can be intimidating, but it can also be validating when someone responds to a post with a comment like, “I’ve been in that very situation.”
AC: You’re on Twitter (follow Dr. Zafar @yzafar), so in 140 characters tell us what your average day is like?
Dr. Zafar: What’s an average day? #NothingAverageAboutOncology
AC: When you’re not working, what are some things you like to do in your free time?
Dr. Zafar: I have a four-year-old daughter with boundless energy and an amazing sense of humor. When I’m not spending time with my daughter and my wife, who is also a gastrointestinal oncologist (yes, there’s a blog post in there somewhere), I love taking photographs. I spend as much time as possible combining travel and photography.
AC: Anything else you’d like to add?
Dr. Zafar: I’m excited to be among a great group of ASCOconnection.org bloggers, and I’m looking forward to making continuing contributions to the site. I hope I can live up to their standards!