Lisa Lai, MD

Medical director of breast cancer program at Upstate now seeing patients in Oswego County

By Chris Motola

Lisa-LaiQ: What circumstances brought you to Oswego Health?

A: Oswego lost their breast surgeon and had a gap where there was no dedicated breast surgeon working in Oswego County. Our Upstate Medical oncologist and radiation oncologist have well-established practices in Oswego, so from my standpoint it just made sense to form this association, because now breast cancer surgery services are restored to Oswego County and the Upstate breast cancer team is complete there. It helps that the doctors I’m collaborating with there are the ones I’m collaborating with in Syracuse.

Q: What are some of the benefits of this kind of arrangement?

A: The benefit is that the patient knows that they’re getting treatment from a regional academic medical center, but they’re getting it in their hometown. We’re coming to them, essentially.

Q: Does the more rural environment affect how the practice works?

A: The way I perceive things to be is that we have access to things that can be otherwise difficult to find. Since we’re reactivating the breast cancer program, we’ll be able to plug patients right back into that. We have a few challenges, as well as great resources that have always been there. The hospital administration and clinical support staff are very attentive to finding these resources for us. We’re rebuilding a practice, so it’ll take a little time, but I have no doubt that we’ll be able to do it.

Q: What types of patients will you see?

A: It’s pretty much everything related to breast health, from patients who need screening to patients who have had an abnormal mammogram, to others who have a diagnosis of breast cancer. To others who may have several family members with breast cancer. I’m able to offer treatments of benign masses, mastectomies, lumpectomies. The only thing I’m not offering at the moment is mastectomies with reconstruction because we don’t have a plastic surgeon. Those patients will have to come see me in Syracuse.

Q: How will you be splitting your time between sites?

A: I’m at Oswego Health one day a week. I’m very enthusiastic about this opportunity and deeply committed to it. I’ve had a very warm welcome.

Q: Will you be using telemedicine to interface with Oswego patients at other times?

A: The patient advisement will mainly go through clinic staff and our breast patient navigator, or they’ll come to see me in Syracuse.

Q: Since you’re doing administrative work at Upstate, how challenging is it to work this new role into your work life?

A: My job has really been one of evolution. I’ve taken on a lot of new rules. I’ve always tried to stay focused on what needs my attention. I have a really good team helping me, so I’m trying to focus on both the administrative tasks and patients who need me. I have a nurse practitioner who I trust who can treat patients who don’t need surgery while also being available to the patients who need me.

Q: Do you see these kinds of rural/urban partnerships as being a good model for addressing needs in underserved areas?

A: Absolutely. Medicine these days has become so specialized. It’s not practical anymore for a smaller hospital to try to hire all of these specialists. So forming affiliations with larger medical centers is a natural evolution. Surgery is an interesting case. You consider that surgery is usually a one-time event and that patients are usually willing to travel for that one-time event. But that’s leaving out the pre-operative and post-operative care and all the follow-up visits a breast cancer patient needs. So patients usually appreciate being able to do that within their own community.

Q: Will this arrangement be long term?

A: A lot of the patients in Oswego seem to hate to travel if they don’t have to. I see it as a long term affiliation. It’s a win-win situation. It allows our cancer center to perform regional outreach while bringing our expertise to those communities. And it frees up Oswego Health to not have to try to recruit somebody, which can be very difficult. The attention of the administration can be spent on other programs. We’re starting out rudimentary, but I think we have tremendous potential. It’s on the backburner for now, but eventually we’d like to try to seek accreditation and official breast cancer program status.


Name: Lisa M. Lai, M.D.
Hometown: Buffalo
Education: SUNY Buffalo School of Medicine (medical degree); SUNY Upstate Medical University (surgery residency); Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta (fellowship in breast surgical oncology)
Affiliations: University Hospital; Oswego Health
Organizations: American Society of Breast Surgeons; American Medical Association; American College of Surgeons; Onondaga County Medical Society
Family: Married, one son
Hobbies: Travel, time with family

In the News

Physician Lisa Lai recently started providing cancer services to patients of Oswego Health in Oswego County. Lai is affiliated with the Cancer Center at Upstate Medical Center where she serves as the medical director for the breast cancer program. She will provide radiation oncology and medical oncology services locally for the convenience of cancer patients. This partnership will further benefit local breast cancer patients who require specialized care or choose to have plastic surgery following a breast procedure.