Welcome to our Provider Spotlight feature, which gives you an opportunity to get to know one of our skilled providers each month as they share some friendly details about themselves.
Ayesha Sooriabalan, MD, (pronounced eye-shah sue-ree-ah-bah-lin), is Director of Palliative Care at Saratoga Hospital and a member of Saratoga Hospital Medical Group. She is board certified in Internal Medicine with a subspecialty certification in Palliative Medicine. Dr. Sooriabalan came to work here after completing her medical residency at Albany Medical Center. She felt immediately at home. She and her husband came to love the area so much that they decided to stay and raise a family here. They have two daughters, ages 5 and 7.
Q. How did you come to choose palliative care as your specialty?
A. I think I’ve always been drawn to palliative care, ever since my residency. I came to Saratoga Hospital to work as a hospitalist my first five years here. I realized I like getting to know the whole person when caring for a patient and respecting where they are in their lives, both essential traits in a palliative care specialist.
We did not offer palliative care at the time, but I worked with families that were facing some difficult choices for their loved ones. They were receiving treatment information from different specialists, but they didn’t always have someone to help them pull it all together and see the whole picture in context of their goals and quality of life. We began the program in 2015, and I’m so happy to be serving in this capacity.
Q. How does a patient know when palliative care would be of benefit to them?
A. When a patient tells me they are not ready for palliative care, sometimes it is because they are confusing palliative care with hospice. Hospice is a form of palliative care that is provided for patients focusing on comfort at the end of life.
Inpatient palliative care, provided here at Saratoga Hospital, is dedicated to serving any patient living with a serious illness, including curable ones. In my role, I meet with hospital patients at any point of their disease and treatment journey. These patients may have difficult symptoms to manage. They may be receiving chemotherapy, dialysis, a feeding tube, or other treatments that spark questions.
If a patient feels a lot of decisions are coming at them, and they are nervous about intervention and impact on quality of life, I feel that would be a good time for them to ask the primary medical team to give us a call.
Q. What is the personal or professional philosophy that most guides your work?
A. I think it would have to be the Golden Rule. When working with families, I treat them as I would want a palliative care specialist to treat my family. I remember when we went through it ourselves with my father-in-law. We didn’t want to lose him, but we did what we could to make it a peaceful, dignified, and easy transition for him and for each of us as we grieved. He was – and still is – a strong presence in my work and spiritual journey.
I started this work after he died. As a physician, I am in a different role here, but we all relate on a human level. I can empathize when I see a family in distress. I am at the patient’s bedside, asking how they are doing, helping them take time to decompress, to find calm, and to meet them wherever they happen to be emotionally. Their treatment is important, but so is their self-care and the self-care of their family members. I don’t forget that with my patients.
Q. What is your most memorable moment from your time here at Saratoga Hospital?
A. Seeing our vision of palliative care come to fruition was an unforgettable experience for me. I am grateful to have helped build this program from scratch. The hospital has been amazingly supportive, and I am so blessed to work with our advanced nurse practitioner, Deanna Veet. I could not ask for a better person to do this with. Currently, our practice is growing, and primary care physician John Pezzulo, DO, is helping expand our services to outpatients. We are thrilled to have him join us. We’ll have more information on that soon.
Q. What helpful words of advice would you most like to share about your specialty?
A. Good communication is an important part of resolving complicated decision-making. Sometimes family members and patients aren’t all on the same page. They find themselves second-guessing their decisions or feeling caught in the middle trying to please everybody. It can be easy to be so focused on what needs to be done that you miss out on meaningful time with your loved ones.
We can help the whole family understand where we are now, where we hope to go, what each intervention is doing, and what it all means in terms of quality of life. Never be afraid to ask questions. If we don’t have the answer, we will connect you with someone who does.
Q. What might patients be surprised to learn about you?
A. Straight out of high school, I joined the U.S. Air Force. My boot camp training was at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. I enlisted in active duty for four years, serving in finance and accounting in southern California. While serving, I earned a BS in business management at night school.
During that time, I volunteered at the VA hospital. I would bring patients magazines, talk to them, and listen to their stories. I was so impressed with the medical teams. They inspired me to become a doctor. I went back to school again, taking weekend classes in pre-med while working full time in the military. It wasn’t easy, but I did it.
I have never felt more in tune with doing my life’s calling as I do now. Everything along the way, hard or good, it’s all come down to doing this, palliative care.
To learn more about Dr. Sooriabalan and palliative care, click here.