Nita Ahuja, MD, MBA, is the chair of surgery for Yale Medicine and chief of surgery for Yale New Haven Hospital. A gastrointestinal oncology surgeon, she has an international reputation for providing complex surgeries for people with gastric, rectal, and pancreatic cancers. She is internationally known for treating rare, difficult soft-tissue sarcomas, which are cancers that affect the connective tissue.
Dr. Ahuja uses the latest minimally invasive techniques and approaches, often working with other specialists to provide combined approaches such as chemotherapy and surgery. She has an international reputation for management of peritoneal cancer metastases with cytoreduction and heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy, a service that attracts patients from around the world. But she considers her surgical skill and techniques as secondary to her most important work, which is talking to her patients about their care.
“I trained 10 years after medical school, and we’ve gotten more and more technical. But at the end of the day it’s about the patient,” Dr. Ahuja says. “Patients understandably want to know, ‘What’s my chance of survival? Can I be there for my kid’s graduation or prom?’ They bring in all their fears. It’s my job to pay attention to those fears, and then explain all that’s happening with the cancer, including the surgery, the imaging, the genomics. I also remind them that they probably won’t remember everything I say. But we will talk about it again and again.”
As a professor of surgery at Yale School of Medicine, Dr. Ahuja is also a prolific researcher. She is an NIH-funded surgeon-scientist and a leading member of the second Stand Up to Cancer Dream Team, a research group studying epigenetic therapy for cancer management. Epigenetics is the study of biological mechanisms that switch genes on and off. She is widely recognized as a leader in translational epigenetics, conducting clinical trials in colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, and other solid tumors. She is also known among her peers for developing biomarkers for early detection of colorectal and pancreatic cancers.
Dr. Ahuja says all of her work—in the exam room and in the lab—is aimed at providing better care. “I wake up every day thinking about how I can make my patients’ lives better,” she says.