Talking Hope: A candid conversation with diagnostic radiology leader Jessica Patel, M.B.A., C.R.A.

Talking Hope is brought to you by City of Hope, an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center and Orange County’s most advanced cancer care. We bring together renowned cancer experts, grateful patients and leaders in the cancer community to share vital conversations, personal journeys and unique insights into the disease that is diagnosed in one in three people during their lifetime and impacts us all.

In this episode, host Darrin Godin speaks with Jessica Patel, M.B.A., C.R.A., the director of diagnostic radiology at City of Hope Orange County Lennar Foundation Cancer, the region’s most advanced cancer center. They discuss why she felt called to City of Hope and how her team of advanced imaging and radiology experts is making a difference for patients and their families.

Make an appointment: call 888-333-HOPE (4673).


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Darrin Godin: I'm Darrin Godin, Chief of Staff for City of Hope, Orange County, and this is Talking Hope. Our guest today is purveyor of Hope, Jessica Patel. Jessica's the Director of Diagnostic Radiology at City of Hope, Orange County, Lennar Foundation Cancer Center. Thank you for joining us today, Jessica.

Jessica Patel: Thanks for having me.

Darrin Godin: Jessica, you are employee number 35 if I'm not mistaken. Is that correct?

Jessica Patel: You're correct. Yes.

Darrin Godin: Which means you joined City of Hope, Orange County, about a year and a half before we actually even opened our cancer center, at a time where we were truly a startup and everything had to be built from the ground up and designed from the ground up. I'd love to know what drew you to City of Hope and what drew you specifically to this role?

Jessica Patel: Yeah, no, that's a great question. What a great opportunity to sit back and reflect on the journey that we've been on over the last almost two years. I'll have my anniversary at the end of the month. I guess what drew me to City of Hope was really the opportunity to create something for the community that would last long after I retired. There's a really large need in this community for cancer specific care and what better opportunity than to get to build that from the ground up utilizing the experiences that I've had over the years.

Darrin Godin: Great. Have you always been drawn to the challenge of building something new or figuring things out, solving problems?

Jessica Patel: Yeah, I have. I was always really big into puzzles. My dad was actually an architect, so I always loved looking at his drawings and seeing the buildings that he did and all of his work, so it was something that spoke to me in that regard. My dad actually passed away from pancreatic cancer about two years before we opened.

Darrin Godin: Wow.

Jessica Patel: It's something that really was pretty personal to me and really something I felt like was put in front of me for a reason.

Darrin Godin: Almost like a calling, like you were called here. Yeah. Well, I'm sorry to hear about your dad. I know you've shared about that in other avenues as well or other venues, so that's probably your why as well. Right?

Jessica Patel: It really is. It is. I try to bring my perspective as a family member and what I saw my dad going through as a patient to everything we do here, so really keeping the patient and their family at the focus of what we do and how we do things.

Darrin Godin: Wow. You mentioned your dad was an architect and in many ways you've been allowed the opportunity to architect what imaging and radiology really looks like for City of Hope, Orange County. Tell us about some of the exciting things that we have in Orange County and really how those are going to make a difference for our patients and their families.

Jessica Patel: Yeah, absolutely. Imaging has really evolved a lot over the 20 years I've been doing this. We started out with what we called a single slice CT scanner, and the ones we have in the cancer center can do 256 slices all at the same time. The technology has really advanced a lot. Really being able to have all the newest technology in the same location is pretty unique. Usually if you've got new technology you have a piece here or a piece there, and then you have some older systems in your fleet, so being able to have the cutting edge and the very latest of everything all at once is a really great opportunity and so much fun. But beyond that, it's been really the people. The people are really what make this place what it is. They bring the soul to City of Hope. Without those people the equipment doesn't mean anything. You can have the highest tech things, but if you have people that don't really care about what they're doing, it's not going to perform the way that you want it to perform.

Darrin Godin: Wow. That's really important, right, the way we treat people and the way our patients feel and their families feel while they're here. Tell me more about that. What are you doing to really develop that in your team? I hear a lot of great things about you and your leadership style from your team, so I would love to understand what is your leadership philosophy and how do you really apply that to create an environment where your staff are known and cared for and really engaged so that they can deliver good quality care?

Jessica Patel: I've worked for good leaders, I've worked for bad leaders, and it really is top down. Being able to execute the leadership style that you want to be to be yourself really comes from the support that you get above. I feel very supported in this environment to really be myself and be genuine and authentic with my employees, and I think that's what makes me approachable to them and what makes me a human really. You see people who are in leadership positions and oftentimes you see the end result. You don't see the road that it took to get there. I think that I bring that to the table where my team can actually think about the road that I was on, and I share with them the road that I was on and the experiences that have led me to where I am today. Not only that, but I think it's important to have representation for my team. Representation of women in leadership positions and doing things that are really extraordinary, I think, is really important for people who are just starting out. Yeah, I don't know if that answered your question.

Darrin Godin: Absolutely. Would you mind sharing us a little bit of that road that you've been on?

Jessica Patel: Yeah, definitely. I started out as an X-ray technologist in Oklahoma City. I worked at the level one trauma center at OU Medical Center. It was the only level one trauma center in the entire state, so we saw everything. That was probably my favorite job before I came here. It was a lot of adrenaline, a lot of teamwork, but really a great experience for me. At the same time, I was working in CT. It was a more advanced imaging modality, and I couldn't get a full-time job in it at that point in time, and so I wanted to keep that skill set up so I could leverage it in the future. Then a friend of mine from high school and college actually reached out and said, "Hey, I'm going to move to San Francisco. You should come too." 

I thought, well, I'm 25. I don't really have anything holding me back here, so why not? What a great adventure. I started looking for jobs in San Francisco. I ended up at UCSF Medical Center just by chance. At the time, I didn't realize what an incredible organization I was joining and how much expertise and knowledge and research was going on there. I just thought I was getting another job. I started doing CT there. They cross-trained me into MRI, and then that's also where I went into leadership. I ended up being the practice manager of their outpatient imaging center down near the ballpark in San Francisco, which was great. Shortly after I became a supervisor I went into a leadership position. I started my master's degree in business administration. Once I graduated from that program, I actually started looking for jobs down here in southern California.

I had actually met my now husband in San Francisco. He had moved down here to Southern California, and so we decided that we were going to make it real serious, and I was going to move down here. I was really lucky. I got a job at Children's Health of Orange County, another place that was really specialized, incredible organization with a huge mission and something really meaningful to the community. I was there for about five years. I had gotten really comfortable in my role. I felt really confident, and so I started looking for director positions. I actually applied for the director position at CHOC. It was open shortly before I left. They ended up going with an external candidate, which actually worked out well for me because that's when I saw the LinkedIn ad for my position now and started looking into this opportunity.

Nine interviews later, I was offered the position. Nine Zoom interviews later I was offered the position, and all of this is going on in the middle of a pandemic, right, so a very unique experience. Yeah. Wendy Austin was my first interview. She made me feel so comfortable. I had a good feeling about it from that point. I got off of that call and told my husband, I was like, I think this might actually be something real, so we might need to talk about this.

Darrin Godin: And here you are. You've been called and accepted the call, and we're so glad that you have. What is the message that you would like to share with our audience today about specialized cancer care here in Orange County and why it's so important?

Jessica Patel: Yeah, definitely. When City of Hope talks about specialized cancer care and our focus on cancer and just continues to talk about how that's our one thing, the reason that's important is because when you're dealing with cancer, you want people who have seen it. You don't want it to be the first time. There's something that's really comforting about going to somebody when you know that they've done this a million times before, or they've seen the worst possible case of whatever it is that you had, or they've seen every complication of whatever your complication is. That really does a lot to put your mind at ease, and it also does a lot to relieve any barriers to your care or any delays in addressing those things.

Rather than going somewhere that does a little bit of everything, they're doing trauma, they're doing ob gyn, they're doing whatever the other services are, they're definitely important for the community, but they don't have the opportunity to really focus on the nuances of oncology and of cancer care. When you come somewhere that does just that, a lot like Children's health of Orange County does just pediatrics, right, you don't always take your kid to an adult hospital. You choose to take them to a pediatric hospital for a reason. Same thing for oncology. It's really that expertise and seeing this thing over and over and over again in so many different forms, that really brings a lot of value to the care that a patient receives.

Darrin Godin: Thank you, Jessica. The hard question, what does hope mean to you?

Jessica Patel: I've been asked this in different forms over the past two years, and I think my answer's probably been different every time. To me, I guess the best way to explain it is hope is the idea that something's possible. Hope is the idea that despite whatever is stacked up against you, you can still succeed and you can still overcome that obstacle.

Darrin Godin: I love that. Yeah. It's what's to come, right? We have to focus on that, and there's an element of faith involved there as well, right?

Jessica Patel: It's what's possible.

Darrin Godin: Right. Jessica, thank you so much. I want to go back to something else you talked about earlier too. You talked about representation. I'd like to hear a little bit more about that. Why is representation so important?

Jessica Patel: Sure. We actually had an employee say to one of my managers that she, she's a staff technologist. She had mentioned to her manager that in her previous roles, she had never really thought that she would pursue anything beyond being a staff technologist, which is great. We need people who want to really just specialize in taking care of patients and in the imaging and whatnot. Seeing myself and seeing Annette Walker and seeing Wendy Austin and Cynthia Powers, being in our positions that we have, and bringing what we have to the table really made her rethink that and think about maybe there's more opportunities for me. Maybe I'm not reaching high enough for myself because the environment she had come from was all male, so she hadn't even really thought about that she could accomplish more. I think just seeing people who are like yourself in one way or another, whether it be your gender, or the way you think, or whatever the similarity is, really helps you to see the opportunities that you can pursue and the things that you can accomplish. It makes those things a reality in your mind.

Darrin Godin: Back to the idea of what's possible, right, the idea of hope. Yeah. Well, we are recording this during International Women's Week for Women's History Month as well, so I echo your sentiments. We have a lot of great women that work with us on this team, and I think we are really blessed by the level of leadership and the level of quality of human being that we have, right, among our team. Jessica Patel, Director of Diagnostic Radiology, thank you for your time and thank you all for listening today. Until next time, I'm Darrin Godin and this is Talking Hope.