Dr. James Fiorica
By Doing So, James Fiorica, MD, Brings New Methods for Treating Gynecologic Cancers to Sarasota
SARASOTA—Almost every chance he gets, James Fiorica, MD, takes the path less traveled, one filled with challenges and opportunities to enhance treatment modalities.
When Fiorica attends a meeting or conference outside his home base of Sarasota, he confers with physicians about new methods for treating the gynecologic cancers in his practice and the potential for cure in often unusual, rare cases. These medical forums provide valuable insight into the needs of each patient; many of his patients are referred from other parts of the country and world.
"That's where you go as a physician in this sub-specialty to gain a better understanding of the specific, complex issues facing women with gynecologic cancers today" said Fiorica, director of the Women's Cancer Care Program at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, who makes it a priority to bring clinical trials involving new experimental drugs and up-to-date, state-of-the-art gynecologic cancer treatments to Sarasota residents.
DID YOU KNOW?
James Fiorica, MD, traces his family roots to a community that virtually defined "close-knit"—in Sicily, Italy. Even though he returns to his homeland every three years or so, he doesn't speak Italian. "My dad moved to the states and spoke English at home to learn the language more rapidly for his medical career," he explained. "Everyone in the family is bilingual so it's never really been a problem."
A native of Buffalo, NY, Fiorica was the younger of two sons born a year apart to a family physician and his wife, a high school English teacher. (Fiorica's older brother is a pulmonologist in upstate New York.) When the boys were young, the family relocated to a rural New England town.
"Medicine was such a natural part of my life growing up," he said. "My father was a surgeon … and my role model. His work inspired a strong interest in the sciences. I loved chemistry and science projects, and from a very young age wanted to learn how the human body worked."
After graduating from Cheverus High School in Portland, Maine in 1974, and College of the Holy Cross in 1978, Fiorica earned a medical degree from Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston in 1982.
"I always thought I'd be a family physician in a small rural town," he said. "But in medical school, I was exposed to multiple specialties … and found myself drawn to the OB-GYN field. It was a fun and rewarding specialty, one that celebrated birth and life. Then during my residency, I was exposed to the other extreme … the subspecialty of GYN-Oncology, which deals with cancer and potentially deadly conditions. I was drawn both by the people and the complexity of their cancers.
DID YOU KNOW?
One of the latest technologies at Sarasota Memorial is the da Vinci robot. Sarasota Memorial was the first hospital in the state–and among the first in the nation–to acquire the da Vinci-S Surgical System in 2008. James Fiorica, MD, the first surgeon in Sarasota to use the robot in gynecological surgery, said the robot provides unparalleled precision, dexterity and control in minimally invasive cancer surgery. In some cases, studies have shown improved cancer control as a result of its use.
"Everybody thinks a cancer diagnosis is all doom and gloom, but in fact it's just the opposite. It's a profession that challenges you to think, act and feel like no other. I'm a surgeon, a researcher, and a friend to my patients and their families. We're all in this very real life drama together and I cannot adequately express how wonderful it feels to make a difference in their lives."
Fiorica's first venture south of the Mason-Dixon Line was to the University of South Florida (USF) College of Medicine, as a resident in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, followed by a fellowship in gynecologic oncology. He returned to New England for additional sub-specialty training in breast disease at the Brown University School of Medicine in Providence and at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston.
"Even though I'm not practicing in that small town I originally conceived, I'm experiencing more patients, teaching at multiple levels, and more importantly, learning more about how to change the outcome of cancer," said Fiorica, who served as a clinical professor of OB-GYN medicine at USF and director of GYN-Oncology at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute before coming to Sarasota in 2005.
"Sarasota has a great medical community," he said. "It's a great place to be a patient and a physician. You have a hospital–Sarasota Memorial–that believes in and invests in cutting-edge technology and recruiting the nation's best specialists and sub-specialists." In 2007, Sarasota Memorial was one of only two hospitals in Florida ranked in U.S. News & World Report's 50 Best Hospitals for Cancer Care, he noted. "A lot of cities across the nation don't have that caliber of care. Having come from Moffitt, the only other cancer hospital to make the list, I can tell you that Sarasota Memorial is comparable to the nation's best academic medical centers."
Like many physicians, Fiorica remains challenged by time management—or rather, a lack of time for all he'd like to do.
"It's hard to find balance when you're in the medical profession," he said. "When I'm home, I try to give my undivided attention to my family– my wife and three children." His wife is a Princeton grad and a lawyer who is not practicing right now. Their daughter is a dental student at MUSC-Charleston; their older son is a junior studying elementary education in Florida; and their younger son is a freshman in the business school at Marquette in Milwaukee, Wis. "Fortunately, they're very supportive, proud of what I do, and extremely understanding when I must put my patients' health first. I'm very appreciative and proud."