Rosa Nouvini is a medical oncologist who sees patients at MSK Ralph Lauren Center in Harlem. She specializes in the care of patients with benign blood disorders and blood cancers, as well as those with solid tumors like breast cancer, lung cancer, and colon cancer. Dr. Nouvini completed her fellowship at Stony Brook University Hospital and joined the Ralph Lauren Center in 2018.
She recently discussed her background and how it influenced her philosophy of caring for patients today.
How did you become interested in science and medicine?
When I was about 10, I remember I asked my parents for the Mayo Clinic Family Health Book, which provided information about causes, symptoms, and treatment for any kind of health condition. I remember how exciting it was for me to dive into that and find remedies for things that ailed my family and friends.
What is your philosophy for caring for people with cancer?
The way I think about treating patients started long before I even entered medical school.
My aunt became sick with breast cancer when I was about 12. It was very scary and, unfortunately, she passed away from it. What my family remembered and talked about was how empathetic and compassionate her oncologist was. They felt confident that he was doing everything that could be done for her. I learned from this that the doctor-patient-human connection is important — that it can bring solace in a distressing time.
For this reason, and because I love getting to know people, I always ask my new patients about their interests, what brings them joy, and how they interact with family and friends. Knowing this helps me in treatment planning and empowering my patients to make the best decisions for their health.
Why did you want to come to the Ralph Lauren Center?
I am a first-generation Iranian American. My parents left Iran before the revolution and raised me and my sisters in New York. Growing up, they always talked about the difficulties they endured in Iran and how they couldn’t fulfill their dreams there. Once they came to the United States, they felt liberated and that they could accomplish what they had hoped for. Our conversations created a deeper appreciation for the opportunities and freedoms I had in the United States. I knew that if I wanted to pursue a career in medicine, I would not face many barriers. But I also understood that not everyone living in the United States had equal opportunity. The neighborhood next to mine had residents with lower incomes and a lower-tiered school district. Children growing up there were disadvantaged and less likely to graduate from college — they had fewer opportunities than me. It felt unfair how our neighborhoods presented such drastically different life outcomes. That’s where my interest in disparities started. As I learned more throughout my medical training, I became passionate about equalizing access and outcomes in healthcare.
What do you like about treating patients at Ralph Lauren Center?
We have such wonderful patients. About 30% to 35% of our patients are Black, and then about 60% are Latinx — primarily from the Dominican Republic. A lot of my patients are very appreciative that I am fluent in Spanish. I spend about half of my day speaking Spanish; I love it.
Many of our patients have some sort of delay in their care or knowledge gap about their disease before they come to us at MSK. From the very first visit, we take the time to explain to them in basic, understandable language what type of cancer they have, the stage, and what this means; what treatments are available; and how their family members can be involved. Additionally, we address what are called social determinants of health. These are the ways in which different aspects of one’s environment can impact their access to healthcare and their outcomes. This means we have to learn how our patients access food, housing, childcare, transportation, and many other things. This knowledge helps us successfully get patients through treatment and follow-up care.
How would you like to see the Ralph Lauren Center improve in the next 5 to 10 years?
We’ve done a good job of establishing this facility in an underserved community and getting patients through the door. We have cancer treatment services, as well as screening services like mammography and HPV screening. I hope that we can expand on-site services, such as clinical trials and complementary medicine (acupuncture, reiki, and more). There is a lot of room for growth, and I’m excited for what’s to come.
What is a typical day like for you?
The first thing I do when I wake up is meditate. Meditation is a grounding force for me. It helps me stay in touch with myself and recognize when I’m feeling sad, emotionally exhausted, happy, or grateful. It also helps me stay mindful of what’s happening in my surroundings. If there is time in the morning, I will go running or do yoga. Fitness is a large part of my life.
I get to work at and enjoy working with a motivated team in the clinic at the MSK Ralph Lauren Center. Outside of my clinic days, I spend two days a week doing administrative tasks and research and collaborating with others on creating programs at MSK Ralph Lauren Center.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I love spending time with family and friends — and especially love cooking and entertaining. I love the arts and theater scene in New York City. Traveling feeds my soul, and when I get a chance, I travel to faraway places where I enjoy nature, adventure, learning about different cultures and food.