National Doctors Day - VA Palo Alto Health Care System
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VA Palo Alto Health Care System


National Doctors Day

Dr. Sowmya Iyer with the writer, Dave Earnest

Dr. Iyer is a Geriatrician at VA Palo Alto's Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center (GRECC). The focus of GRECC is to improve and disseminate knowledge regarding the medical, psychological, and social needs of older Veterans.

By Dave Earnest, USAF (Retired Colonel)
Thursday, March 30, 2017

Today in America is a day in which we honor the doctors whose care we depend upon. We are extremely fortunate at the VA Palo Alto to have hundreds of amazingly dedicated doctors who deliver the highest quality healthcare to our community of Veterans. This day provides us a special opportunity to thank our doctors and reflect on the truly exceptional medical care they provide.

On March 30, 1958, the United States House of Representatives adopted a resolution commemorating “Doctors Day.” In 1990, Congress and the Senate approved legislation establishing “National Doctors Day” and President Bush signed it.

“To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” - Abraham Lincoln

Many of our doctors could easily be featured in an article and all of them deserve recognition and appreciation from their patients more frequently than “National Doctors Day.” With such a breadth of talent, I chose to focus on a population frequently in the news and rapidly becoming the “new normal” population of Veterans, the “senior” Vets in our health care system.

Dr. Sowmya Iyer joined the VA Palo Alto staff just about a year ago and hit the ground running. Raised in Louisville, Kentucky, and attending medical school at the University of Louisville, Dr. Iyer’s initial intention was to study Pediatrics. Her studies took a new direction following a medical interaction with an engaging centenarian who became the catalyst for her decision to specialize in Geriatrics. Having finished her residency in Internal Medicine, she completed a Stanford Fellowship in Geriatric Medicine, and all of us aging Vets should be grateful that we have Dr. Iyer as one of our very own doctors at the VA Palo Alto.

When I sat down and visited with Dr. Iyer, her warmth and soothing smile were captivating. She’s calm and soft-spoken and gives you her total attention. When asked about her patient care philosophy, Dr. Iyer responded, “I’m interested in the patient's quality of life and trying to plan my medical care around the desires of the patient. You have to listen, and be a bit of a detective as a Geriatric doctor. Often the patient (or family) does not tell you directly what they desire or fear. You have to learn to figure out what they may really be asking. Geriatricians specialize in the complex care of older adults, so we try to consider people's medical conditions, physical and mental functioning, social situations, and personal goals into medical decision-making.”

Currently, Dr. Iyer is the Medical Director of Intensive Management Patient Aligned Care Team (ImPACT). ImPACT is a clinical program individually tailored to meet the Veterans' health and wellness goals. Veterans who may have chronic conditions or have had a serious medical event are selected for this voluntary program with the aim to help these individuals navigate health care services and achieve their health goals.

In her role as a geriatric consultant, Dr. Iyer sees patients at the VA Palo Alto and additionally consults by telephone to the aging population in our rural sites. This entails making suggestions to either the patient or their doctor on medical issues related to Geriatrics, including everything from medication to dementia related issues. The phone consultations are especially valuable to Veterans who may be home bound or do not have easy access to medical facilities.

Dr. Iyer’s face lit up when I asked her about her family. She immediately showed me a photo of her young son and spoke with loving admiration of her husband and parents. Her compassion for her patients, she explained, is a result of her personal medical experiences and serious illness of family members. “My personal experiences with illness provided an awakening and a perspective shift in the way I care for a geriatric patient,” she confessed “I really want to understand them and do all I can do to improve their quality of life!”

For relaxation Dr. Iyer plays the violin, a habit she developed when majoring in music during college. Although her training was in western classical violin, she enjoys playing all types of music and says she also sings. You can catch her engaging in her avocation on occasion at the Palo Alto VA Farmers Market.

Speaking for my fellow Veterans, we say to Dr. Iyer, “Thank you”! And to the VA Palo Alto doctors at all our campuses, we are extremely grateful for your care and kindness in listening to us, caring for us and improving our lives! Thanks a million!

To learn more about VA Palo Alto's Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center (GRECC), visit the website.


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