Dr. Judith Steinberg on ALIVE With Joan Lunden: My cancer experience has informed my work

June 05, 2015

Receiving a cancer diagnosis and facing mortality was a personal experience for UMass Medical School’s Judith L. Steinberg, MD, MPH, but she told ALIVE With Joan Lunden that it is also influencing her work as a clinician and leader in health care delivery reform.

“As an internist I’m often in the position where I have to be the deliverer of bad news to patients, but in December of last year I ended up being in the other chair as the patient … I basically had an experience that really has informed how I practice medicine and also the other work I do in this Office of Healthcare Innovation and Quality,” said Dr. Steinberg, clinical associate professor at UMass Medical School and deputy chief medical officer of its Commonwealth Medicine division, where she leads a team that helps states, providers and organizations improve the way health care is delivered.

Steinberg shared her story in a video for "ALIVE with Joan Lunden" a 24/7 channel hosted by the award-winning journalist and breast cancer survivor who bears its name.  The subscription-based channel, available on the Web at ALIVEWithJoan.com, is part of the TAPP subscription video platform.

“I’m a doctor but I’m also a person, an individual. I have a family of three children and a husband,” said Steinberg, who feared for her life and wondered how her family would cope with the news. “Your mind just goes through all sorts of things.”

In many ways, the health care system worked, Steinberg said in the video. Her surgery was swift, there was good communication between doctors and her prognosis is good. But there was no support for her emotional needs, often called behavioral health integration by those in the health care field.

“Wherever there’s a challenge in life there’s always opportunity. And the opportunity here was for me to have this kind of lived experience that can better inform my work,” said Steinberg, whose clinical practice has since hired someone trained to meet patients’ behavioral health needs. “I can bring that behaviorist in and work as a team to be able to do a better job in delivering bad news, and providing whole person care.”

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