Breast Surgeon Breaks Barriers with Putting the Patient First

Image courtesy of Good Samaritan Hospital

Dr. Karen Karsif wanted to be a surgeon since she was 5 years old. Initially pursuing a career as a neurosurgeon, she soon realized physicians in that field often did not have much contact with patients after surgery. This didn’t align with her passion.

“I realized breast surgery put me in the operating room, which I love to do, but it also allowed me to take care of my patients hands-on and I could follow my patients practically forever,” she explained. “The relationship I have with my patients is very important to me, and that’s how I ended up dedicated to this field for the past 22 years.”

Dedication is the right word, as Dr. Karsif is so committed to her patients that she was awarded the prestigious Gay Clark Stoddard Memorial Award from Susan G. Komen Foundation, a distinction for physicians who provide outstanding compassion to the breast health patients. More than 16 years after her recognition, Karsif continues to put patients first as the Medical Director of The Center for Breast Health at Good Samaritan Hospital, a member of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network. When asked what makes the difference in providing effective care, the surgeon outlined a simple philosophy: Spend time with patients.

Whether it’s being late for an administrative meeting so she can focus on a patient, or providing her personal cell number to someone struggling emotionally with a diagnosis—telling them to call day or night, Dr. Karsif believes that the highest standard of care is what all physicians should deliver.

“When patients come to me with a bad experience from another doctor, I just don’t understand it,” the physician shared. “I do understand the realities of shrinking reimbursements, litigation and paperwork, and that it’s tremendously frustrating, but it’s also frustrating when patients arrive for a second opinion and they know nothing about the pathology of their cancer because it was never properly explained to them. I just think every part of my patients’ care should be taken very seriously—even providing basic courtesies like letting someone finish their sentence and making eye contact. It means everything to patients, and unless there’s an earthquake, I’m going to spend that extra time and effort with them.”

Dr. Karsif makes sure that her patients have every available resource at their disposal to enable the best care possible. She even personally runs a patient support group, because as she explained: “As much as it exhausts me, it exhilarates me because I learn a tremendous amount from my patients and I feel much more connected to them.” The surgeon also relies on the latest surgical tools, such as MarginProbe, to ensure the best possible outcomes for her patients.

MarginProbe protects patients

MarginProbe is a device used during surgery to identify microscopic residual cancer at the surface of the excised tissue. Removing a rim of healthy tissue, known as the margin, is essential to reduce the positive margin rate, which will ultimately reduce the need for re-excision (additional surgeries). The MarginProbe device helps the surgeon ensure that they removed all of the residual disease and that the tumor is surrounded with healthy tissue.

“The thing I like about MarginProbe is that it gives me an answer, right then and there in the operating room, and tells me if I have clear margins,” said Dr. Karsif. MarginProbe is used in lumpectomy surgery for both Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) as well as for invasive cancers. “I use it on every single case that I can,” stated Dr. Karsif.

Since using MarginProbe, the surgeon stated that her re-excision rate has dropped from 13 percent to just 3 percent. “I tell my patients it’s still possible on the final pathology, that there may be a close or a positive margin that may necessitate further surgery,” the surgeon shared. “But with the reduction in re-excisions that MarginProbe enables, it increases the likelihood that the surgery will be done once and they can go on to the next phase of their treatment. Anything that shortens the process and decreases the number of operations is better for the patient. And if you look at patient satisfaction, one of the biggest complaints they have is if they must go back for re-excision. When you only need to perform one surgery, it’s just emotionally so much easier and that really makes a difference when they have to take this journey.”

Karen Karsif, MD

  • Board-certified surgeon with over 21 years’ experience devoted entirely to treating breast disease
  • Awarded the Gay Clark Stoddard Memorial Award from Susan G. Komen Foundation in recognition of patient care
  • Surgical residency at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, PA
  • Medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and internship at Pennsylvania Hospital, both in Philadelphia, PA

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Dilon.