“This community has been really good to me. I wanted to give something back for the way they have always supported me.” Dr. Shobha Chitneni, Clinical Assistant Professor of Hematology, Oncology, and Blood & Marrow Transplantation, has lived and worked in the Quad Cities-area for more than twenty years, providing cancer treatment and care to area residents. In February of this year, Dr. Chitneni and her clinic partner, Dr. Mario Sy, brought their clinic into the University of Iowa Health Care system. This has allowed, as Dr. Sy said at the time, to “bring more innovative treatments to patients closer to home.” It is clear that providing the best care to her community, in all its facets, is of utmost importance to Dr. Chitneni as well.
The youngest of six children, Dr. Chitneni watched her older brothers grow up and leave the family home in Hyderabad, India, from an early age. She was always interested in medicine (“I loved to read those ‘I Am John’s Heart’ stories in Reader’s Digest.”), and attended Osmania Medical School in Hyderabad. Dr. Chitneni is grateful for the training she received there. “It’s more of a clinical training. There’s not that much money for all kinds of tests, so you have to learn to listen to the patient.” She remembers one instructor, a surgeon, who diagnosed a liver condition after a cursory exam, a hypothesis later borne out in the operating room. “I thought, ‘wow, I want to be like him.’”
After training and sub-internships in infectious diseases and rheumatology and a year as a research associate in hematology, Dr. Chitneni completed an internal medicine residency in Cleveland and a fellowship in hematology-oncology at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York. It was then, in 1994, with her third daughter less than a month old, she got a call from a recruiter with an offer. “Honestly I didn’t know where the Quad Cities were. I knew Chicago, and I have family in Michigan. So we came to look and I thought ‘this is a good place.’”
Within a couple years, once she had learned the ropes of running a private practice, Dr. Chitneni started to make deeper contact with other physicians in the area. She joined the Iowa Oncology Society and today serves as President of the organization. She and her partner at the time recruited Dr. Sy to the practice in 2003. Together, they built one of the few private practices in the country to achieve the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s certification in the Quality Oncology Practice Initiative.
Their contacts within the IOS and other organizations helped them establish a relationship with the University of Iowa. There had already been some co-management of patients between their QC practice and UIHC, helping the university perform some research trials, sending more complex transplant patients to Iowa City, or in other cases, saving others the drive and providing the needed service closer to the patient’s home. The two practices were certainly no strangers when the opportunity of formalizing the relationship arose.
Since then, Dr. Chitneni and Dr. Sy have quickly folded in to life as faculty members in Internal Medicine; soon they will even begin hosting and mentoring oncology fellows for rotations. And although the transition has not been without its bumps, the benefits of membership have made the change worthwhile. There has been both a slight increase in patients seen as well as an increase in the variety of patients, such as those in gynecologic oncology, who now do not need to incur travel burdens in order to get access to the resources the University of Iowa can offer.
Beyond what she and Dr. Sy can now offer the community, Dr. Chitneni is also grateful for what the future holds. As the institution explores other ways to expand its offerings throughout the state, their practice can serve as a model for how the UIHC can integrate oncology services into other communities, in addition to other subspecialties. “I’m getting older, I wanted this practice to continue. I wanted good care for the patients, I wanted my staff to have a place to work. It all came together at the same time and I think Dr. Sy and I, with the help of the University, we can do more for the community. We’re all excited.”