INTERVIEW WITH DANA TARCATU, MD
What guided your decision to go into medicine and specifically your chosen field?
I was naturally drawn towards Palliative care very early in my training, as I felt it would be the field of medicine that would allow me to fully embody, express and source my core values of integrity, growth, and service.
My work in Palliative care started in 2006 with an exceptionally well designed and highly technical training at a prestigious academic cancer center in NYC. There I had the opportunity to learn and practice skills that built the foundation of my professional persona. We learned about disease-models and sophisticated pain management algorithms to treat refractory cancer pain syndromes. I had the opportunity to immerse myself in experiential learning with some of the brightest minds of psycho-oncology, who were pioneering meaning-centered and dignity therapy in cancer care in the US.
During that time, I had an eye-opening re-introduction to death, in its rawest and most authentic form – seeing people die in hospital rooms, their bodies raped by chemotherapy through their last breath while their minds and spirits were left unattended. In those moments I couldn’t quite integrate intellectually and emotionally what was going on, as everything seemed to fit perfectly into the institution’s mantra: “we are fighting the good fight”.
Fast forward a few years later: I opted out of the academic scene to practice palliative care at the end of life with a non-profit home hospice organization in NYC. Despite the state-wide barriers to hospice utilization (New York State has the lowest hospice utilization in the US), the program serves a relatively large population across all five boroughs. We care for people from all walks of life, across all ethnical, racial, socio-economic, cultural, and spiritual backgrounds. The mission is based on the concept that death and dying are biopsychosocial, spiritual, and cultural phenomena.
My evolution in this space has been guided and informed by my own awakening and commitment to a seeker’s path of spiritual growth and expansion. In the early years of my career as a hospice physician, my practice style was heavily influenced by what I had learned during my training. It was coming from a place of reactivity to different situations and a misguided enthusiasm to “fix” the unfixable. It took diligent effort and practice to unlearn those models and shift into a mindset of equanimity and self-awareness.
I started paying attention to the quality of energy I was bringing into each interaction I had with those I cared for, my colleagues, my friends and family and most importantly with myself.
“As healers, we cultivate skills that allow us to become portals of energy. Guiding others through those energetic shifts ultimately leads to a deeper and authentic connection to the Universal Source of healing.”
Have you ever been a patient, and if so, what did it teach you?
I see everyone I care for as people before patients. By broadening our mental lens to see each human beyond the classic definition of a patient (“a person receiving or registered to receive medical treatment”), we invite everyone to co-create a space where care is personalized to reflect people’s values, beliefs and life experiences.
What I am learning daily is that there is an open invitation to imagine myself on the other side of the bed sheets. Personally, this exercise keeps my mind and heart open and helps me see the reality through the eyes of those I have the responsibility and privilege to care for. That adds an extra level of awareness and helps me remain objective while aligning my recommendations with what really matters to them.
What are the most important qualities for a doctor to have?
I am going to use this quote to answer this question, as it reflects quite accurately the way I have been allowing the unfolding of this thing called LIFE: “A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.” ― Yvon Chouinard, Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman
What can a patient expect when they have you as a doctor?
Partnership, commitment, accountability, and inspiring conversations.
What is the most important factor in the doctor/patient and why?
Connection. In the work I am called to do, the highest therapeutic value comes from the ability to nurture connection and co-create a space of healing where everyone can show up safely and authentically. As healers, we cultivate skills that allow us to become portals of energy. Guiding others through those energetic shifts ultimately leads to a deeper and authentic connection to the Universal Source of healing.
What makes you different from other doctors in your field?
I speak from the heart and most importantly: I truly listen. I go a few levels deeper than the surface, curious to learn about people’s stories and what is shifting while they navigate change and the unknown in the face of a serious health issue. I ask the kind of questions that help others connect to their innate source of wisdom and intelligence, so that with time, they ultimately find the answers within themselves. I see myself as a guide, not an expert. My role is to hold a safe space for the unraveling to happen. And sprinkle the spice that integrates all the pieces together. The key is to be fully present in the moment and remain grounded in my own calm and relaxed state of attention. It takes commitment and diligent work to not only be self-aware, but also stay current with myself, as my inner and outer landscapes constantly change. What I am learning through this practice is that I am the instrument of my work, and tuning my instrument is essential for staying connected to the task I was assigned to do in this human life.
Carl Jung wisely said: “Know all the theories, master all the techniques. But as you touch a human soul, be just another human soul.”
What is your favorite activity outside of work?
I love to move, and I see movement as another way to connect with nature and myself. I spend as much time as possible immersed in experiences that challenge my physical and mental boundaries and open new doors to accessing non-ordinary states of consciousness. Some examples of that are trail running, Nia (a sensory based movement practice) and diving.
“As a physician, I welcome the opportunity to educate and increase awareness about the key elements of Palliative care through a platform that can reach far and beyond a private practice or institutional website.”
You recently joined the Doctorpedia team as a Founding Medical Partner. What about Doctorpedia resonates with your personal and professional mission?
What resonates for me is the simplicity of the idea. Offering valid and accurate information directly from the source, articulated and endorsed by those who are doing the work, not just talking about it, is priceless. I hope people will see and understand the value, as most continue to navigate through the unnecessary manufactured complexities of our not so modern healthcare system.
As a physician, I welcome the opportunity to educate and increase awareness about the key elements of Palliative care through a platform that can reach far and beyond a private practice or institutional website.
As per a recent WHO report, only 1 in 10 people who need palliative care receive it. The article clearly reminds us that “Palliative care is a human right and a moral imperative to all health systems”.
I am grateful to the team at Doctorpedia for seeing the opportunity to change the narrative. We can make significant contributions towards increasing the awareness about what the model of palliative care offers, how the human-centered interdisciplinary care can be integrated in any stage of a serious illness, and ultimately empower people to advocate for accessing the care for themselves and their loved ones. Simplifying the language and busting the myths about palliative care is key. Through Doctorpedia’s channels there is an invitation to create content about a deep and serious subject and present it in a fun, light-hearted and impactful way. So that people take away the information they need to guide their choices and decisions.
What problem do physicians face that Doctorpedia can help solve?
From my own personal experience is the problem of never-ending filtering through a million layers of approvals from business development to legal to who knows who else… If a physician working in an academic environment or corporate setting creates relevant educational content most of the time that content ends up being distorted, diluted, and distilled to a point where it loses its original flavor and relevance.
Doctorpedia offers an amazing opportunity to co-create content with a team of creatives who understand the value of authenticity and can think outside the box when it comes to making the content appealing.
If you could spend a day with any person in the world (dead or alive) – who would you choose?
I would love to spend a day as the Dalai Lama’s cat, Mousie-Tung.
What would you do for a living if you weren’t a doctor?
I would be an elephant caretaker. In my process of becoming, I am contemplating the idea of building or joining a hospice facility for elephants approaching the end of their lives in India, Nepal, or Thailand. Elephants are one of the world’s most emotionally intelligent and empathic species. Being around them as they navigate the end of their lives would be a phenomenal opportunity to expand my view, learn and grow.
Dana Tarcatu, MD
Dr. Dana Tarcatu is Triple Board-certified by the ABMS (American Board of Medical Specialties) in Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Pain Medicine, and Internal Medicine and board-certified by the ABQAURP in Health care Quality and Management. Her expertise is in adult, pediatric, and geriatric palliative care with special focus on integrated palliative care models for oncology.