Heather A. Smith, PA-C, MMSc
Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
University of Washington School of Medicine
Working at SCCA and seeing all of the new therapies available for patients fuels my optimism.”
Tell us about an interaction with a patient that has had an impact on you.
One day, I was paged because a patient of mine with leukemia had spiked a fever. Coupled with a low white blood cell count, the fever was dangerous. Within 30 minutes, we arranged for the patient to be taken to the infusion room, where a nurse and I could take care of him: testing for pathogens in his blood, starting antibiotics and admitting him to the hospital. This sequence of events was the standard of care for his situation, nothing out of the ordinary. But what stood out to me was the sense of cooperation, compassion, grace and efficiency the entire medical team demonstrated. Everyone did their part perfectly, and all I could think was, “If I were having a medical emergency, I would want these people taking care of me.”
Specialties and clinical expertise
The branch of medicine a provider practices and their areas of focus
I am a board-certified physician assistant with more than 15 years of experience caring for patients. Currently, I focus on treating a variety of oncologic and hematologic conditions, from blood disorders to bone and breast cancers, among many others. I also collaborate with research staff on clinical trials, seeing patients, documenting physical exam findings and assessing lab results. My background includes working on the Investigational Biologics Safety Committee, where I helped review research protocols involving biologic agents (such as antibodies or vaccines) at SCCA.
What has shaped your approach to patient care?
When my father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, I became his full-time caregiver. It was not an easy role. I had to gently refute his claims that he was fine — eating, drinking and walking enough — when that was clearly not the case. He would ignore the recommendations I made, only to do a sudden reversal when his doctor repeated the very same recommendation. Once I experienced cancer care as a daughter and a caregiver, I realized how a diagnosis affects the whole family. As a result, I focus on being present with my patients and those who are caring for them, listening to their fears, hopes and expectations.