Shanthi Sivendran, M.D., serves as Division Chief of Hematology & Oncology at Lancaster General Hospital. We asked Dr. Sivendran about her time as an EMT, the department’s current priorities and why she loves to throw parties.
Tell us about your background.
I was born in Sri Lanka and lived briefly in England as a baby. My family settled in Gettysburg when I was a toddler. I think I always wanted to be a physician. My dad is an ophthalmologist who still practices in Gettysburg. My mom raised four health-care providers—a pediatric dentist, dermatologist, internist and me—which is probably the hardest job of all. When I was a student at Penn State, I briefly considered being a teacher or an anthropologist. Then I worked as an EMT for three years while I was in school, and I really loved interacting with patients.
I completed medical school and an internship in Dublin, Ireland, followed by residency at Penn State Hershey. I completed a three-year fellowship in Hematology/Oncology and concurrently earned a master’s degree in clinical research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. I think everybody should live in New York once. In 2011, I joined LG Health Physicians Hematology & Medical Oncology, where my clinical interests are melanoma and breast cancer. I also have a special interest in palliative oncology, which includes co-chairing the disease team at Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute, developing our palliative oncology team and doing research.
Why did you choose to specialize in oncology?
I went into residency thinking I would specialize in nephrology or infectious disease. I remember complaining when I was assigned three oncology rotations. To my surprise, I found that it was phenomenal. In my second year of residency, the nurses on the bone marrow unit said I had a knack for oncology. Their encouragement meant a lot to me. As an oncologist you really get to know patients and their families, and they let you into a very intimate slice of their life. There is sadness, but there is also success and survivorship. Plus the science is so cool. What we know about cancer and therapies has rapidly changed in the course of a decade. It’s a really exciting field to practice and study.
How did you get into a leadership role?
What are some of the Division’s current priorities?
I became Division Chief of Hematology & Oncology in August. I am very driven to identify needs and potential changes to improve quality of care for patients, the overall quality of the health system and quality of life for my colleagues. I like the people I work alongside. I want everybody to succeed, and I want to be part of that success. In addition to my leadership roles, I serve as a mentor for colleagues at ABBCI, as well as medical students. I do a lot of research and national presentations. I’m also getting my MBA. While I have a lot of responsibilities, I’m really passionate about all of these things, and I love to learn. When your work aligns with your passions, it naturally all comes together.
Communication with patients is a major area of focus. We recently brought Harvard’s Serious Illness Conversation Program to ABBCI. It’s a systematic way to have meaningful conversations with patients about their goals, values and wishes. We are training all of our providers and starting to have these conversations now. By enhancing our own communication skills
, we can assess what is important to patients and develop treatment plans that are consistent with that. I also serve on the Advance Care Planning Committee, which is working to implement a universal approach across the entire health system. We also recently partnered with the Center to Advance Palliative Care
to provide online resources to improve the palliative care skills of anyone with an LG Health email address. The learning modules cover everything from navigating a serious conversation to caring for the caregiver.
What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
My husband and I have a 3½-year-old daughter and a 15-month-old son who keep us pretty busy. I love to run, and I just got a Peloton bike. I also like to hike, travel and do anything outdoors. My husband and I like to throw birthday parties, family parties and parties for my work pod. Oncology is very team-focused, and it’s important to get to know each other outside of work. It’s always easier to be on a team if you are genuinely interested in each other’s lives and take time to have fun together.