Dr Ranjana Srivastava OAM

Oncologist, Fulbright Scholar, Writer & Broadcaster

Welcome to my website! I am a physician practicing oncology and internal medicine in Australia. I believe that the art of medicine is as important as its science and I am grateful for the support of the institutions and individuals who make it possible for me to promote my mission.

I invite you to read my columns and books and get in touch with your comments.

Of all the places in the hospital, the intensive care unit (ICU) is one of the most confounding. On one hand, it can weave magic as I found out in the case of my frail, deaf and elderly cancer patient who had arrived in a diabetic coma and whose litany of medical problems would have been sufficient for many doctors to say enough.
In a time of bewildered young children crying for their parents at border crossings, the world found an antidote in the meticulous rescue of another group of youngsters trapped in a dangerous cave from which emerging alive was considered improbable.
Although family doctors are an anchor for many patients, my patient had a terrible experience with his when he was diagnosed with advanced cancer. The doctor and the patient were of a similar age, both with young children. The doctor was said to be completely unsettled by his patient's predicament.
An 85-year old woman is ambivalent about having cancer surgery and I ask the surgeon what her goal might be. "Her goal?" he asks, rather nonplussed. "Isn't everyone's goal to live longer?" As it turns out, no. She declines surgery because she's afraid that even the slightest complication will result in her having to place her husband in a nursing home.
Breaking the news of a cancer diagnosis to loved ones, going through treatment, and re-assessing the important things in life.
The first thing I notice is her beautiful hair. She is oblivious to the camera, but her casual beauty must have been hard to miss. The first thought to come to my mind is, "She used to look like that?" Next, I notice there is no space to sit or even stand.
"Have you told her yet?" the social worker asks. "I am waiting for an opportunity", I answer without disclosing the doubt and apprehension that nag me. The patient is 90, snow-haired and slender-built. She delights at our presence, treating us like a fond grandmother and showing unfailing gratitude.
"If there is a doctor on the flight, please ... " The call for a doctor reflexively ejects me out of my seat and towards the sick patient. One flight in every 600 incurs a medical emergency - until recently I used to pack my trusted stethoscope that could actually hear a thing or two amid the din of the plane, but it felt too much like inviting illness.
A door opens behind me, causing my shifting heel to land on a socked foot just as the resident warns me to watch out. "Hey!" an irate voice protests. "First you keep me in pain and now you are trying to kill me."

On The Art of Medicine | Ranjana Srivastava | TEDxFulbrightMelbourne

What I learnt from my experience is that while the technical things matter, what matters most of all is the art of medicine. Ranjana Srivastava is an oncologist, award-winning author and columnist for The Guardian. She was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for her work on doctor-patient communication.
When my long-term cancer patient landed in a different public hospital with unexpected bleeding complications, it soon became apparent that he was at the end of life. There were no beds in that hospital and the patient was too unwell to transfer. He died in a cubicle many hours later.
"You are the cancer doctor? Promise you won't scare me," my patient says, clutching my hand. My heart melts. As we slowly navigate the short distance to my office, I worry about his unstable gait. "I am not here to scare you," I say gently, "but I hope to help."