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Upstate oncologist honored by local hospice center for compassionate care

Upstate oncologist honored by local hospice center for compassionate care

SYRACUSE, N.Y.-- Upstate University Hospital oncologist Ajeet Gajra, MD, is this year’s recipient of the Anita Award, an accolade offered by Hospice of Central New York in recognition of the physician’s compassion and commitment to caring for patients with life-threatening illnesses.

Gajra says to care for patients with cancer, oncologists must prepare for the time that when fighting cancer is no longer possible.

“My promise to my patients is that if and when such a time approaches, I will be honest with them and inform them of the situation,” Gajra said. “We will explore their wishes together, with their loved ones involved. I promise them that I will do my best to maintain their comfort and dignity.”

Gajra’s compassionate care and understanding are based on personal experience, a story he seldom shares.  Gajra lost his father to cancer in an unexpected way years ago, and says involving hospice in his father’s care was the best thing his family did.

“When you see a loved one die, it changes you,” said Gajra. “It is a process that is not under our or the patient’s control. As physicians, we owe it to our patients and families to minimize suffering and help loved ones to cope as best as we can. I believe that being with a patient on his or her final journey is more important than anything else that we do.”

Gajra grew up in a middle class family in New Delhi, India. After attending a prestigious medical school in India, Gajra moved to Syracuse and began working at Upstate, where he joined a fellowship in oncology and hematology; he was appointed Fellowship Program Director in 2006.  He also serves as associate professor of medicine at Upstate.

The Hospice of Central New York established the Anita Award in 1998 in memory of hospice patient Anita Stockman. The purpose of the award is to emphasize the importance of physician communication and care for patients and their families facing life-threatening illnesses.

The award is presented annually to a physician who is attentive to patients’ needs, communicates openly, honestly and sensitively, respects patients’ decisions and remains actively involved with the patients in their final journey. Physicians are nominated by the Central New York community.

Being recognized as the recipient of the 2012 Anita Award, Gajra acknowledges the value of good mentorship and education.

“It is humbling because there are so many caring providers who deserve it as much if not more,” said Gajra, of the recognition. “I have been fortunate to have outstanding mentors and educators at Upstate and the VA [Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Syracuse] who taught me everything.”

“Just a word, a touch or an embrace is sometimes enough to put someone suffering at ease. I learn from all of my colleagues and my patients every day.”

Gajra is not the first Upstate physician to be honored with the Anita Award.  Drs. David Sadowitz and Jonathan Wright are also among the winners.

Ajeet Gajra, MD, an oncologist at Upstate University Hospital, center, winner of the 2012 Anita Award from the Hospice of Central New York, with Upstate colleagues Leslie J. Kohman, MD, and Steven Graziano, MD.