Western Slope surgeon leads in practice and educational institutions

January’s member spotlight is Joyce Sekharan, MD, FACS, a general and trauma surgeon with Colorado Surgical Affiliates, Breast Cancer Program Director for St. Mary’s Hospital, and Chief Medical Director at Advanced Skin Care and Laser Center in Grand Junction. She was awarded her medical degree from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and completed her residency at the University of Florida – Jacksonville. Dr. Sekharan met her husband, Joel Schaefer, MD, FACS, during residency and they relocated to the Western Slope 20 years ago to work and raise a family. She currently serves on the Caprock Academy Board of Directors and was recently appointed to serve on the Colorado Mesa University Board of Trustees.

Get to know a bit about Dr. Sekharan through the Q&A below. Find more information about participating in the CMS member spotlight at the bottom of this article.

1. What inspired you to pursue medicine?
I come from an Indian family and education is highly valued in the culture. I have always been interested in science. I earned my undergraduate degree in biology and discovered medicine to be a more interesting and challenging path than bench science.

2. How did you choose surgery?
During my medical school rotations, I liked the variety that surgery offered. The technical aspect of surgery also appeals to me. Now I spend part of my time in clinic and part of my time in the operating room. Some days it’s all OR, some days it’s OR in the morning and clinic in the afternoon. I like to be busy.

3. How did you choose independent practice? How do you thrive?
20 years ago we were seven physicians with a practice manager. Now we have grown to 14 physicians and Carla Blue, our practice CEO – which is very different from a practice manager – has helped the business aspect thrive. She has an MBA and manages the business, keeping an eye on our contracts, seeing what’s coming down the pipeline from the legislature, and staying involved with the Colorado Medical Group Management Association (CMGMA). This allows the physicians to focus on patient care. It’s very complicated now for physicians who run private practices to do both medicine and business.

We have a partnership with St. Mary’s to run a trauma program that is beneficial to the community, the hospital and our practice. The hospital does not have to worry about the medical staffing of the program. These kinds of partnerships keep us viable and independent. I like the business of medicine and Carla has guided us in disciplined business practices. We have been able to attract partners who are independently minded and wish to run a business. I don’t think it would be possible for us to thrive as an independent practice without professional business administration.

4. How was your experience working and raising a family?
My husband is also general and trauma surgeon and our practice in Grand Junction was big enough to accommodate both of us. It was nice because we knew we would both have to take call and in a big group that call gets dispersed. There were challenges with having children and working as a surgeon, but there were some advantages in living on the western slope. Sometimes I was able to come home and see my kids over lunch or if there was a gap in the OR schedule as sometimes happens, I could spend some time at home until the next surgery. Grand Junction is a great fit for our family.

5. What drives your passion for education and workforce development?
I have spent five years serving on the board for a charter school one of my children attends. I recently received the appointment to the Colorado Mesa University Board of Trustees. The oversight of these institutions that receive public funds to provide education is a growing interest for me. CMU has grown so much as a leading higher educational in western Colorado.

We are somewhat geographically isolated in Western Colorado, and we have a comprehensive medical community. Like many areas of the country, we need nurses and allied health professionals as well as physicians. CMU has a robust nursing school and a PA program that is training local health care professionals from all over the country.  We know that if we can train advance practice providers (APP) locally, they are more likely to stay. St. Mary’s also has a wonderful family medicine residency program. These and other programs facilitate having a durable medical workforce. That’s how we’re going to fill the medical needs in the future.

6. What advice would you give physicians-in-training?
I remember when I came to Grand Junction, a partner who is now retired told me that “you do not choose your practice, your practice chooses you.” I would not have believed that 20 years later I would be the breast program director. I have grown to love the practice of breast cancer surgery and made it a point to become an expert in this area. I am proud that we are the only American College of Surgeons accredited site for breast cancer care in Western Colorado, a process that took two years to achieve.

I think as physicians we are adult learners, so my advice is to be flexible. Whether you are a medical student, resident or physician, when you start practicing, things may grab your attention that you did not expect. Be open to ideas and possibilities. That is instrumental to carving out a practice you enjoy. Your practice will find you. Just be open to it and you may be surprised where that leads.

7. What do you enjoy doing outside of medicine?
We live in a part of the country that has great access to the outdoors. My family and I like to do adventurous things. Our travels have taken us rafting down the Grand Canyon, skiing in Telluride, fly fishing in Idaho, and soaking in little-known hot springs all over the West.

The Colorado Medical Society is proud to continue the CMS member spotlight in 2023. Do you want to be spotlighted this year? Contact enews_editor@cms.org to self-nominate or to nominate one of your colleagues.

Categories: Communications, ASAP