Dr. Nieva is a medical oncologist, specializing in lung and head and neck cancer at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center of Keck Medicine of USC.
Here’s what you won’t find on his resume:
There is no bucket list for him to check off.
“I don’t keep a bucket list; my life is quite fulfilled, and I do the things I want to do, when I can. I don’t really have any adventures or thrills that I am putting off. I just enjoy my life where I am, doing what I do, with the people around me.”
He enjoys taking breaks from society.
“My favorite travel destination is Big Sky, Montana. I enjoy going hunting for upland birds and big game, with my friends from Montana and Louisiana. It’s really quite special to get away to the hills, in a place where my cell phone does not work, and be outdoors.”
He tied both of his childhood dreams together.
“I was pretty sure I wanted to be an engineer, while growing up, but coming from a medical family and enjoying the life sciences in high school and college, I decided to go into medicine. Now I seem to be spending my time doing research on engineering and physics-based technologies for cancer patients, so I feel that in a way, I am back to being an engineer of sorts.”
He takes annual family trips to the mountains.
“When I am not working, I usually spend time with my wonderful wife and children. As a family, we like to do all sorts of things, but skiing must be at the top of that list. We try to get to the mountains, about once per year, and spend several days there.”
He knows his place in the world.
“My initial response to whom I would trade my career with was that I would certainly have wanted to be Robin Ventura and played third base for the White Sox. If I had done that, I would have missed out on touching all the lives that I have touched as an oncologist. While it would be a lot of fun to play baseball for a living, I think that I would miss the chance to impact the lives of so many people who needed me there at a very dark time in their lives. I’ll just keep the career I have.”
He didn’t have to look very far for a strong role model.
“My father was my role model. He was a physician who taught me the importance of being responsive to your patients and working hard. As an OB/GYN, he would deliver about 30 babies every month. I was impressed by his work ethic but also learned that I should be sure to make time for family.”
He knows nurses are essential to top-notch care.
“The best advice I ever received was to be nice to nurses. Every physician makes mistakes, and you need to have an attitude with nurses that makes them feel comfortable questioning your orders. If they don’t feel comfortable speaking up, they will allow your mistakes to go uncorrected.”
He knows his patients are special.
“My patients are my inspiration. As a physician, I recognize that I work in a service industry and judge myself based on how well I served my patients’ needs. The best part of my job is the impactful conversations that I have with patients. As a medical oncologist, my patients all have serious illnesses, and they are very engaged in what we are trying to do to help make them better.”
He loves that the future of medicine can be now.
I get inspired by the chance to get new, innovative drug treatments to my patients, before they are available from the Food and Drug Administration. It is really great to have a patient enroll in a clinical trial, knowing that they are getting a drug that may not be on the market for another five to 10 years. I feel that this is my chance to deliver care to a patient that is years ahead of the current state of medicine. It’s like reaching into the future to bring back a drug treatment that people need today.”
He believes technology is both a blessing and a hindrance.
“Our technology tools mean we can know the data on the patient, when they come into the office. In the information age, we can move beyond just asking open-ended questions, like I was taught to do in medical school. This gives us time to focus more on the treatment plan and nuances of the disease. I am still, however, awaiting the day when tools are developed that will let me know when my patients are sick, while they are at home, so we can intervene before they are next scheduled to come in. I currently do research to bring these tools into fruition. But the hardest part of my day is making time to answer more than 100 emails that arrive in my in-box each day.”
Medical school taught him many things.
“I applied to medical school because I enjoyed the idea that I could apply science I learned in school to real problems that affect real people. In both school and my profession as an oncologist, I discovered the concept of team. Oncology is a team sport. It is not played by a single physician acting solo to cure patients. Everyone on the team delivers care, and it is the team that makes the patient better.”
He has sage advice to offer medical students.
“Make sure that you know everything about your patient before walking into the room with them. It’s their expectation that you know why they are there and what has happened up to this point.”
He lives for this moment.
“The most rewarding part of my job is when I am telling a patient that they are in complete remission.”
Keck Medicine is his home.
“Being at an academic medical center gives me a chance to do research and teach. I am currently working on applying engineering and physical sciences technologies to the practice of medicine, by working with teams of quantitative scientists to bring advances to cancer medicine through the use of data-intensive technologies. My favorite part about working at Keck Medicine is that we also take care of patients at Los Angeles County+USC, so by working here, I can take care of people from all walks of life. Treatment here is always the best of everything. The best surgery, the best radiology and the best medicines. Nothing here is about cutting corners, seeing patients faster or doing part of the job. Every patient in our system gets the best.”
Dr. Nieva is an associate professor of clinical medicine. Click here to view his full biography.
Click here to learn more about USC Norris.