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Aviva C. Berkowitz, M.D., Focuses on Humanism in Oncology

Even Though She Comes From A Family With Four Physicians, Dr. Berkowitz Had To Discover For Herself What It Takes To Be A Compassionate Oncologist

May 23, 2022
Aviva C. Berkowitz, M.D.

Since high school, Dr. Berkowitz had a strong feeling she would go on to study to become a physician, and with four of her seven siblings already physicians, she felt almost as if it was a family tradition. “I wanted to go against the grain and perhaps find something else I was passionate about,” Dr. Berkowitz said. Yet, despite her best efforts, she found that medicine truly was her calling and there was nothing else she would rather do, so she enrolled at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Because of her siblings, Dr. Berkowitz had unique insight into what medical school entailed and what it demanded from each student. “I had the benefit of experiencing first-hand the physical, mental and emotional requirements of being a doctor,” Dr. Berkowitz said.

Dr. Berkowitz turned her focus to radiation oncology during her final year at Einstein, and ultimately earned the role of chief resident in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, New York. Working in oncology gave her the opportunity to use her knowledge and interest in anatomy and medical imaging to be able to use the latest technologies to track and treat cancers. “The science of oncology is fascinating. It is a mesh of my interests and skills and I really enjoy working in a multidisciplinary team setting. I am thrilled to be in the field,” Dr. Berkowitz said.

There is one aspect of oncology, however, that had a profound effect on Dr. Berkowitz beyond research—the humanism and compassion needed to treat patients. She is dedicated to being a helpful and encouraging voice for those diagnosed with cancer, who often face extremely challenging times. “A cancer diagnosis is often the most vulnerable time in a patient’s life. It is so important that patients have a physician they trust to explain things in a sensitive way,” Dr. Berkowitz said.

Dr. Berkowitz strives to be a strong advocate for patients and their families during radiation treatment. Treating patients through radiation therapy and chemotherapy or watching cancer progress in patients can be emotionally draining, Dr. Berkowitz said, so she works to stay in a healthy mindset.

“Emotionally, it can be challenging, especially when often times we focus on curative treatment as the only solution and almost see it as a failure when palliative treatment is the only option.” Dr. Berkowitz said. “But being available to patients and their families, being able to palliate their symptoms and guide them through the process goes a long way and I find those interactions quite meaningful.”

The dedication to prioritizing the human side of treatment has proved successful for Dr. Berkowitz so far, and it is a mindset that she shares with her students to help them prepare for their clinical studies. “Things may seem impossible at times and it certainly is a lot of hard work, but if it is important to you, you’ll keep going and never give up,” she said.