Profiles in Caring: Compassion, Cancer and Care on Long Island

Fellow Health Partners Honors Dr. Brad Cohen

“When it comes to caring for cancer patients, there’s so much more in play than just the technical treatment. It’s just as important to focus on attention, empathy, and careful listening so that care can be individualized.” The doctor is Bradley Cohen. His practice focuses mostly on breast cancer. He is a study in caring.

Dr. Cohen practices with the Island Surgical and Vascular Group in Bay Shore, New York. As a fellow of The American College of Surgeons, he frequently participates in Surgical Cancer Societies and has been repeatedly named in “Top Doctor” publications. He earned a B.S. at Yale University and a medical degree at Mount Sinai Medical School in NYC before completing his Surgical Oncology Fellowship training at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in 1989.

Along the way, he developed a philosophy of care that includes the whole patient, based on the idea that the relationship between physician and patient is an important part of successfully beating disease.

Dr. Cohen says, “Being a good doctor is not just about providing the right medication and ordering the tests. It’s about being there for your patients, who feel it and know it just from their interactions with you.”

He continues, “It’s critical to establish a relationship because the person in front of you is often worried and might even think they are dying.”

When a woman (or a man) is diagnosed with breast cancer, they join a large club of worried, hurting, patients who are often frightened about what is happening to them. Dr. Cohen wants to help them, not only with the latest customized treatments but also by providing his full empathetic attention, which means changing some of the protocols that have become so common in doctors’ offices in this high-tech age.

Even though the trend in medicine these days is to hurry the patient through the interaction with the doctor, Dr. Cohen just won’t do it. Instead, he goes out of his way to structure an office visit so that the patient gets his full attention.

“I take the extra time because it feels right.”, he says. “I don’t bring a computer into the room. I know the details of their history and background, so I don’t have to interrupt our interaction. I make the notes after I leave the room. I am completely focused on them when we are together so that I can listen, make lots of eye contact, and behave empathetically throughout.”

When you walk into his office, one of the first things that strikes you is the huge photo mural of so many women (and men) who provided photos to show their own strength while helping to create a vision of solidarity among those fighting cancer.

“My patients are amazing”, he says. “It all started when I was trying to think of a way to honor their courage and an idea came out of nowhere. I borrowed from the symbol of the Fearless Girl in front of the Charging Bull sculpture in Manhattan’s financial district.

“The image struck me that you have to summon the strong inner girl/woman strength, so I asked women to take a picture of themselves being strong, and they responded en masse. I wanted to help them feel strong because a lot of women don’t see themselves as strong and capable, but everybody is. The most scared, the most resistant, those who look for excuses – all end up doing what they have to do. In that sense everybody who goes through this is a fearless person.

“Without formal written consent, they have handed me their photos, which ended up creating this amazing wall of strength. It feels like they are more empowered when they do it.”

Then he adds, “For some of the men, it’s awkward being a ‘defiant girl’ but I think they get into the spirit of the wall.”

For such a caring doctor, he didn’t come naturally to his empathy and caring. He’s very honest about how it evolved.

“You have to have some innate ability to be likeable if you are going to develop trust in a relationship. It wasn’t my desire or intention to be likeable – I didn’t care in my teens and twenties, and I didn’t go to medical school to help people. I went because it was intellectually fascinating. It wasn’t until I started having intimate contact with people that I came to see the importance and now it’s the number one thing to me.

“Today, it’s the one-on-one, the trust and the caring that matter most. When I think about retiring, the hardest thing to give up will be the relationships.”

Thank you, Dr. Cohen, for your Profile in Caring.