Sheila Sahni, MD, is a board-certified interventional cardiologist at Garden State Heart Center in Clark, New Jersey. The practice was founded over 35 years ago by her father, also an interventional cardiologist, initially as a solo practice.
“Growing up in a family with two physician parents made it easy to ask questions when I heard about something regarding a medicine or a disease I found interesting,” she said.
Sahni’s internal medicine residency at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City led to an interventional cardiology fellowship at the University of California in Los Angeles, where she served as Chief Fellow.
1. How did you select cardiology as your specialty? What do you like most about it?
Cardiology is an incredibly dynamic field that allows for interpretation of many data points like history, auscultation, ECG, echocardiogram, etc. to arrive at a clinical decision — I loved that! During my pathophysiology-pharmacology course in sophomore year of college, I distinctly remember the day I saw the Wiggers diagram and learned about the cardiac cycle. This interest was further solidified in medical school when I was exposed to cardiology during my internal medicine clerkships. Lastly, after my first year of cardiology fellowship, I knew the catheterization laboratory and the field of interventional cardiology was where I felt most fulfilled in caring for my patients — it was the place where I could make a diagnosis and treat the issue, if indicated.
2. What’s the biggest barrier to practicing medicine today?
Two major barriers that deeply affect patient care include increased administrative work and lack of centralized medical records.
3. What’s the most important healthcare issue that nobody is talking about?
The lack of care coordination despite electronic healthcare record adoption and major variation in systems of care amongst local counties within states and nationally.
4. What country do you think has a better healthcare system than the United States?
Denmark’s healthcare system is high-quality and provides universal coverage. The cost is included in one’s citizenship! The system provides free drugs to those under age 18 and are affordable for adults. It has a higher patient satisfaction rate compared with the U.S. as well.
5. What is your most vivid memory involving a patient who could not afford to pay for healthcare (or meds or tests, etc.), and how did you respond?
I recently met a new patient with chest pain symptoms who had an abnormal baseline ECG and elevated blood pressure who was “self-pay.” He could only afford the visit that day and not any additional testing or blood work. He agreed to begin medications and came back the next week when he could afford the stress test. In certain high acuity instances, I have had to send patients straight to the emergency room.
6. What do you most often wish you could say to patients, but don’t?
The hardest statements to make to patients are the ones that critique their behavior, like medication adherence or habits like tobacco use. However, I don’t hold back. With kindness, I do tell the truth about how their habits are hurting them, that prevention of disease is key, and that conversation applies for someone who is addicted to tobacco.
7. What is your “elevator” pitch to persuade someone to pursue a career in medicine?
Someone has to portray an interest and a passion for a career in medicine for me to want to “pitch” it to them. That being said, I usually say that medicine is an incredible career that allows you to integrate science with human interaction: the patient-physician relationship.
8. What is the most rewarding aspect of being a doctor?
Making an impact in someone’s life whether it’s opening a blocked artery on STEMI [ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction] call in the cath lab or watching their blood pressure improve because they limited salt or started exercising in the outpatient setting. It’s incredibly rewarding to be a part of transforming someone’s life.
9. If you weren’t a doctor, what do you think you would be doing today?
If I wasn’t a doctor, I would be a curator for an art museum. I was an art history minor and I love post-impressionist and mid-19th century art.
10. What is the biggest difference between your expectations of medical practice when you graduated from medical school and the reality?
The difficulty in patients having access to good quality care amongst various specialties and the lack of centralized systems of care amongst private providers.