MedicalPhysician Q&A

20 Questions: Antoine Sayegh, MD: Medical Oncology/Hematology

Dr. Antoine Sayegh is a hematologist and medical oncologist practicing in Sacramento and Roseville, California. He grew up in Aleppo, Syria, and studied premed and medical education at Aleppo University School of Medicine, where he graduated second in his class of 234 in 1979. Dr. Sayegh completed an internship and residency in the internal medicine program at Atlantic City Medical Center in New Jersey (1980-1983). He also completed two fellowships, one in combined hematology and medical oncology at Hershey University Hospital, Pennsylvania State University (1983-1986), and one in leukemia and bone marrow transplantation at Vancouver General Hospital, University of British Columbia (1991-1993).Dr. Sayegh was chief resident at Atlantic City Medical Center (1982-1983). He has worked in private practice in southern New Jersey (1986-1991), as well as served as chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology and chief of the Cancer Committee at the Atlantic City Medical Center (1990-1991). He was director of the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program at Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento (1993-2008), director of the Therapeutic Apheresis Unit at Sutter Medical Center (2004-2008), and chairperson of the Section of Hematology/Oncology Sutter Medical Center (2000-2005). Dr. Sayegh is a member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Society of Hematology, and he is licensed to practice in California and Oregon. He has worked in private practice in Sacramento (1993-2009); Corvallis, Oregon (2009-2010); and Roseville (2010-present). His stem cell transplantation experience includes the care of 60 transplant patients while in British Columbia, and performing more than 290 transplants in Sacramento. Dr. Sayegh has been published in numerous medical journals, including the American Journal of SurgeryJournal of Cellular Biochemistry, and Blood.
When did you first decide to become a physician? Why?
I decided on becoming a physician when I was young. Quite frankly, I did so because my grades were good enough to qualify for medical school, and it was not easy to do [that] when I was growing up.
How/why did you choose the medical school you attended?
I chose the medical school I attended because it was in the same town I grew up in.
What surprised you the most about your medical studies?
I was most surprised that it was not the science but the non-scientific stuff (the social aspect of medicine) that was very important—the doctor-to-patient relationship, and the interaction with other health care providers.Why did you decide to specialize in medical oncology?I decided to specialize in medical oncology because I felt that the specialty did make a difference in people’s medical care.
If you had it to do all over again, would you still specialize in medical oncology?
Yes. I love the specialty.
Has being an oncologist met your expectations?
Being an oncologist has been exactly what I expected it to be.
What do you like most about being an oncologist? Explain.
I think oncology does have an impact in managing cancer therapy as well as has a significant impact on people’s well being and life.
What do you like least about being an oncologist?
I don’t like dealing with the cost of medications necessary to treat patients.
What was it like finding a job in your field–what were your options and why did you decide what you did?
At the time, it was relatively easy. I think it still is.
Describe a typical day at work–walk me through a day in your shoes.
I’m in the office by 7:45 a.m., when I answer emails and review patient labs and messages. I have patient visits from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., and again from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. At noon, I usually eat lunch and deal with interim issues, and there is always a lunch meeting from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.
On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?
I work around 50 hours per week, I sleep six to seven hours per night if I’m lucky, and I take three weeks of vacation per year.
Do you feel that you are adequately compensated? Why or why not?
Yes, I do feel I am well compensated, based on the available information.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain?
This does not apply to me as I attended school in another country.
In your position now, knowing what you do–what would you say to yourself when you were beginning your medical career?
I would say that practicing medicine is not as glamorous as one would think. It involves not only taking care of patients, but also trying to accommodate rising costs, administrative issues, and regulatory requirements, as well as (sometimes) unreasonable patient expectations.
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were beginning your medical studies?
I wish I had known about all the grind of medicine – the regulations, paperwork involved, etc.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in health care today?
I see the biggest problem in health care today is cost, cost, and cost. Also, medicine is very automated. Medicine is now based on algorithms, and health organizations are trying to treat all patients accordingly, the old “one size fits all” approach can be seen in emergency rooms, hospitals, etc.
Where do you see your specialty in five years?
I see medical oncology getting busier and more challenged. There will be an older population, with more tendency for cancer. There will also be expanding new medications, with better results and a new spectrum of toxicities, all of which will need more time and effort to be incorporated.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
I don’t have time currently for outreach/volunteer work.
Do you have family? Do you have enough time to spend with them? How do you balance work and life outside of work?
My family is limited and remote, as my family (brothers) are far away. I spend my spare time with my wife and friends.
What is your final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing a career in medical oncology?
I would have a hard time talking anyone into getting into medical oncology. The specialty is interesting and very much in rapid evolution, so there is that good side. But it will more demanding, and overall with less visible results vis a vis more concrete careers (orthopedics, Ob/Gyn, surgery, cardiology, etc.).