As Tejal Pandya and her brother rode their bikes around their parents’ business, Freedom Medical Group, in Porterville, she never thought of herself as becoming a surgeon. In school she always liked the health sciences but avoided the medical field because her dad was a surgeon.
She then decided that she might like a career in medicine and went to Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia. She did every rotation besides surgery, staving it off until the very end. She enjoyed all the disciplines equally and thought she could see herself doing any of them.
Then came her surgical rotation.
“From the first time I did surgery I was hooked. Everything else melted away. Nothing has ever made so much sense to me,” Dr. Pandya said.
After graduating from Temple she took up her residency at University of San Francisco’s Fresno campus. Four years later, in 2017, she was a board-certified general surgeon. She also, in the same year, received the Steven N. Parks, MD Award for Professional Leadership from the Fresno-Madera Medical Society.
The Central Valley suffers a shortage of all types of medical providers, especially surgeons, so its lucky for Porterville Dr. Pandya came home and became the second general surgeon, along with her father, at Freedom Medical Clinic.
The clinic provides emergency surgery and scheduled surgeries. The scheduled surgeries include procedures for acid reflux & GERD, varicose veins, breast disease and breast cancer, thyroid nodules & disorders, colon cancer and screening colonoscopy, upper endoscopy, anorectal disorders, fistula, infection, fissure, incontinence and hernias.
Dr. Pandya said the clinic stays up on the newest technologies and specialized equipment. It recently acquired a new medical device for treating varicose veins and it has its own ultra- sound equipment so patient do not have to schedule an appointment at another facility or the hospital.
Having your own ultrasound equipment, Dr. Pandya said, is so that the patient can direct the doctor in real time to exactly where the pain is coming from and the doctor is getting direct feedback until the problem is found. This is preferable to her or her father trying to read the results from a week-old ultrasound taken by a hospital technician.
Somewhere along the way Dr. Pandya also learned Spanish, so Spanish-speaking patients feel more at ease being able to communicate with their surgeon.
As a result of her residency, Dr. Pandya is a part-time faculty member with the UCSF Fresno program. She is a student teacher and does surgeries at Community Regional on the days she’s not doing surgery in Porterville. That means more convenience for Freedom Medical Clinic’s patients.
Dr. Pandya said that their patients can now have surgery at their clinic, Sierra View Hospital in Porterville, or at Community Regional in Fresno. The medical center also has an office in Visalia for appointments and check-ups.
“Now getting the opportunity to try and blend the UCSF Fresno environment and our private practice in Porterville in a unique way is amazing,” said Dr. Pandya.
During her residency at UCSF Fresno it was a collaborative environment. But for her father in the 1980’s, it was a cut-throat environment where two-thirds of the class was kicked out before graduation, resulting in an intense amount of competition between residents.
An article in the Fresno Medical Review profiling newly graduated residents quoted Dr. Pandya as saying, “I realized that it was kind of hard for my dad to know what to do with a second surgeon. Then there was one day when it was really bad and we had some really difficult cases. We were taking out the gall bladder in two ladies on consecutive days who happened to have the same problem that was equally, terribly advanced, and we did them together. The anatomy was so scarred and difficult that we just had to start thinking like MacGyver.…The next morning we were sitting at the kitchen table thoroughly exhausted and he just looked at me and said, ‘There is no way I could’ve done that operation without a second surgeon!’”
She continued, “I just looked and him and said, ‘Now you know what I’m talking about!’ I’m so used to that collaborative environment. To some degree now we are teaching each other.”
Dr. Pandya still has interests outside of work and hopes to find a good integration of medicine and her other passions as time goes on. “But medicine just drew me in despite myself. I always did have a tendency to care for others and want to know how to heal them.”