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7 Quick Questions with Blood Cancer Doctor Firas El Chaer, MD

Hematologist Firas El Chaer

Firas El Chaer, MD, is a hematologist, meaning he specializes in blood cancer and blood disorders. These include:

El Chaer came to UVA in 2019.

Meet a UVA Blood Cancer Doctor

1. Why did you become a doctor?

During high school, I spent three months volunteering at a refugee camp in Lebanon where I witnessed the misery war has on humanity. I was four years old when the civil war in my country ended. My parents sheltered me from the war’s aftermath, and I didn’t truly understand the extent of suffering in my country until later that summer.

My commitment to a career in medicine was both solidified and redefined by that experience. The refugees taught me compassion, humanism, vulnerability -- lessons that continue to guide me as a physician today.

2. Why Did You Choose Your Specialty?

During my residency, I came to realize that I greatly enjoy taking care of the most ill and vulnerable patients. By the end of my first year, it became clear to me that I wanted to be a hematologist-oncologist with a background in infectious diseases.

3. What is your favorite thing about Charlottesville?

Despite being a smaller city, I was surprised how much Charlottesville has to offer. I love visiting farms and orchards where you can pick your own fruits and have a well-rounded culinary experience. I really enjoy the art scene in the city.

However, my favorite part is the easy access to hiking and biking trails. This outdoor gems in and around the city are fantastic!

4. Where did you grow up?

I am originally from Lebanon, and I grew up in one of the oldest cities in the world: Byblos. It is believed to be one the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, and it’s a UNESCO world heritage site.

The city is full of history, it has an ancient port, Phoenician, Roman and Crusader ruins, sandy beaches and a picturesque mountains view.

5. What’s the most exciting thing or research happening in your field right now?

We are increasingly incorporating targeted therapies with old-school chemotherapy treatments. When a patient with leukemia presents at a teaching hospital, we now send for genomic testing, and patients are stratified into different treatment strategies based on their test results.

Blood Cancer Diagnosis?

As part of an NCI-designated cancer center, our providers have specific training and experience with leukemia.

6. Who is your inspiration?

My mom and dad fostered me throughout my education. The values they have taught me have been always guiding me, whether in my day-to-day interactions or at work or with patient care.

7. What’s your favorite thing about working at UVA?

The collegiality here is unmatchable. I remember when I accepted my current position, my boss’ reply to my email was, “Welcome to the UVA family!” I feel blessed and honored to work in such a thriving environment where cutting edge science happens every single day.

View Transcript
Transcript: My name is Firas El Chaer, and I am a hematologist at UVA. I see patients who have blood cancers, particularly patients who have acute leukemias. Either it's acute myeloid leukemia or acute lymphoblastic leukemia. And I see patients with bone marrow failures as well. My particular interest in cancer care, as well as blood cancers, developed after my dad was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Seeing the impact of that cancer on my family, on myself, on my dad, has pushed me to care for such patients and, from my personal experience, relate to their experiences. When I see my patients, I try to focus on the communication with them and their families about their diagnosis, their expectations, as well as their treatment plan. We see them on a very regular basis. So, you get to know them. You get to be involved with the families. It's very rewarding because you become part of their family while taking care of them as their doctor.

This post was originally published June 24, 2020 and updated in November 2021.

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