From the Medical Board of California Newsletter
By Susan Wolbarst, Public Information Officer, Medical Board of California
Ahrin Koppel had an idyllic childhood in the small San Bernardino-area town of Apple Valley. The youngest of three children, she was raised on a six-acre property with dogs, cats, horses, goats and chickens. Her mother was a judge and her father was a salesman.
“I grew up completely unaware of the gender inequality that exists in our culture. My parents told me I could be and do anything I wished, so I did,” she said.
Her favorite subject in school was math. The idea of becoming a doctor came to her when she was asked to select a major on her University of California application form.
“My mother was helping me and she said, ‘You should become a doctor. You can help other people and always have a job.’ I said ‘OK’ and chose biology. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that what I thought to be a flippant comment from my mother would slowly seep into my consciousness over the next several years and further define my path,” she said.
She left for the University of California, Santa Barbara in September 1993. Two months later, while he was away from home on a business trip, her father
suffered a sudden cardiac death.With her father’s death occupying her mind, the future Dr. Koppel’s grades began to slip.She decided to move closer to home, “and to a school where the culture was more heavily weighted towards pre-medical studies.” She transferred to the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) for her third and fourth years of college, and later earned a medical degree at Tel Aviv University in Israel.
Dr. Koppel returned to Southern California, where she completed her internal medicine internship and residency at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and her
fellowship in hematology and oncology at UCLA.
Dr. Koppel works at Tahoe Forest Cancer Center in Truckee, a 25-bed critical access hospital located in rural Nevada County near ski areas such as Squaw Valley and Northstar California Resort. The facility serves a local population of about 35,000 and an additional 25,000 in outlying areas up to 100 miles distant.
Tahoe Forest offers “the full complement of outpatient medical oncology and radiation oncology services that one would expect from any community program,” she says. The hospital’s technology and its association with the University of California Davis saves cancer patients from Truckee and five surrounding counties in California and Nevada from having to travel hundreds of miles for consultation and treatment.
Her day starts with a team huddle with two other physicians, three nurses, a nurse navigator, front office staff, a phlebotomist, a nutritionist, and members of the psychosocial team. “Anyone planning to come in contact with our patients that day joins in on this important discussion to share relevant information on each patient scheduled,” she said. Next, she sees patients in the exam room or the infusion room.
“Each day at noon, we participate in a virtual tumor board with UC Davis,” Dr. Koppel said. “This interactive meeting is broadcast to the network sites and, in turn, our video and audio is broadcast to them. I can present difficult cases to the group, get real time feedback, and carry out the plan as the patient’s treating physician within our local community. This technology also gives the rural practitioner the chance to evaluate clinical trial opportunities and keep up to date on the latest advances in cancer treatment. The unifying goal is ensuring quality community-based care for cancer patients.”
Her favorite part of the job “is having the opportunity to offer the highest quality care, which translates into a superb patient experience. For some, cancer has turned into a chronic condition. For most, cancer is the biggest challenge they have ever faced. Working with a fantastic team allows me the chance to provide the best possible care,” she said.
Asked if she has any advice for young people who want to be doctors, she said, “My message to anyone wanting to pursue a career in medicine is to persevere through all the roadblocks and naysayers. These obstacles are life themes in general. They are meant to be overcome. Don’t let obstacles deter you from your goals.”
How did she feel when she learned she had won a Steven M. Thompson loan repayment grant? “Winning the award made me feel very proud to be part of our rural medical community, where the opportunity to make a difference locally is tangible. The whole community is dedicated to improving access to medical care close to home, and being recognized for that commitment feels great,” she said.
Dr. Koppel and her husband have four daughters. The first was born in August of 2012, followed by triplets the following year. “Today, our older daughter is six, and the triplets are four,” she said. “Some days it seems like we have four Tasmanian devils, but most days they are the light of our lives.”
In her spare time, Dr. Koppel enjoys camping, hiking, yoga, and meditation.