Hardeep Phull, MD: Oncologist, Educator, Advocate, Pilot, Girl Dad and Husband

Meet Hardeep Phull, MD (CCLCM’11)

Dr. Phull and his family in Ireland
Dr. Phull and his family in Ireland

Q: What is your current position?

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

A: I am the Director of Oncology and Infusion programs at Palomar Health, Director of Medical Oncology at Palomar Health Medical Group, and a board member of the Palomar Health Foundation in San Diego. I also am a clinical instructor at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. I truly view my career journey as a series of unbelievable experiences and often unplanned opportunities that have enabled me to appreciate different values, cultures and viewpoints while establishing a track record of excellence across multiple institutions, roles, and settings.

Q: What led you to a career in medicine?

A: I was always fascinated by human biology and science. However, I also was enthralled by aviation and engineering. When my mother underwent a drastic midlife career change by going to nursing school, I decided to volunteer at the VA hospital where she worked. This is where I found my original calling, as I worked with compassionate clinicians who showed me the sincere satisfaction that comes from easing patients’ suffering. By listening to the life stories of war veterans undergoing chemotherapy, I realized the importance of empowering and unveiling the individual behind the illness. Fortunately, I also had the opportunity to amplify my patients’ unmet needs through conducting meaningful research and laboratory experiences at home and abroad.

"As a member of the third inaugural class of the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine (CCLCM), I honed my talents through a well-rounded, world-class education that emphasized physician-scientist development, mentorship, and self-reflection. My education there launched what has become an incredibly meaningful, purpose-driven life mission as an oncologist who works to bridge the gap between the bench and bedside."

Q: What is most gratifying to you in your current role?

A: I have the privilege each day to offer empathy and hope to people who are vulnerable and ill with a diagnosis of cancer. Every cancer patient is on a journey, which must be paced for a ribbon-winning marathon rather than a short-term sprint. My goal is to empower them on that journey and to emphasize their personal stories, goals, and triumphs, helping them to reclaim a sense of identity rather than allowing the cancer to define them. That is when true relationships form, and patients seize their opportunity to shine through any diagnosis, setback, or outcome.

Fortunately, in the current field of oncology, we also have the relative luxury of choosing from multiple therapies, including immunotherapies and more selective, targeted therapies that have ushered in the paradigm of personalized, precision medicine. My dream, which I hope to realize, is the prospect of making cancer a chronic illness, moving closer to the late Dr. Francesca Thompson's prediction that, one day, "cure is growing old and dying from something else."

Advertisement

I also find a sense of purpose through my role as a leader and voice in the San Diego community to educate, mentor and advocate for others, including not only patients, but also physicians and trainees. This has given me some amazing recent media opportunities to spotlight the inspiring cancer journeys of my patients, as well as those of celebrities with cancer. For these reasons, I remain incredibly humbled by my career journey, which continues to fulfill my initial calling to be compassionate and caring for my patients and colleagues.

Q: What motivated you to serve on the Alumni Board? How long have you served?

A: As a graduate of CCLCM, I always have been grateful for the unique curriculum and small class size that provided exceptional access to clinical and research opportunities and led to my early success as a physician-scientist. During that time, I formed lifelong friendships and mentorships that guide me to this day. I also was fortunate to have outstanding mentors and deans who were patient with my shortcomings while empowering me to become the best-possible version of myself. When I graduated, the credo at that time, “Every life deserves world-class care,” became my personal calling card. I considered myself a Cleveland Clinic ambassador at the five institutions where I worked after graduation. Indeed, everything that I have today I owe to my training at Cleveland Clinic, which defined my core values and identity as a physician and paved the way for my future success in medicine. These include Cleveland Clinic’s core values of Quality, Safety, Empathy, Teamwork, Integrity, Inclusion and Innovation.

As I have reflected over the years on the incredible training experiences and opportunities given to me, I have been drawn to the saying, "To whom much is given, much is expected.” Therefore, when I was offered a position on the Alumni Board, serving alongside a very talented group of other Alumni Directors who are true leaders in their fields, it very much felt like an answer to that statement. Ever since starting my Alumni Board role in 2022, I have remained humbled to have opportunities to continue empowering our current and future alumni, as well as students and trainees, and helping them to represent Cleveland Clinic. Collectively, we have a unique opportunity and responsibility to be force-multipliers for each other and role models for the world, embracing a repurposed, yet fitting, tagline, “Every CCF alumnus embodies world-class care.”

Q: What’s a work-related accomplishment that you’re proud of, or a favorite memory at Cleveland Clinic?

A: Match Day is one of my favorite memories, a moment to cherish. When I reflect on when my CCLCM class went through this defining rite of passage together, I often look at photos that evoke nostalgic memories of our genuine celebrations and camaraderie and relive the palpable emotions of the moment when we learned that all of us achieved a 100% match rate to our number-one ranked programs. This incredible collective achievement was the first of its kind at CCLCM.

Dr. Phull flying an airplane
Dr. Phull enjoys flying plans and finds that physicians and pilots share a bird's-eye view of the world

Q: What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Advertisement

A: In my free time, I enjoy writing, sports, movies, travel, and spending time with my wife and two daughters. However, not everyone knows that I am also an aviation enthusiast, having earned my pilot's license before going to medical school. The lessons I learned from flying continue to impact the perspective I have as an oncologist. As a mentor to students and trainees with aspirations to be in the medical profession, I use my experience as a pilot to empower the next generation of doctors, pharmacists, nurses, therapists, technicians and others by encouraging them to keep a “bird’s-eye” view of the world, always thinking outside of the box to transcend the manmade boundaries that are so easily observed at altitude, but often forgotten about at sea level.

Q: What advice would you like to share with future alumni?

A: We will all transition to the next phases of our lives this year, whether it be getting through the Match, “surviving” the first year of medical school or residency, starting clinical rotations, graduating from a training program, or working our way up the ranks in our various academic careers or clinical practices. CCLCM also is transitioning to the next phase, as we celebrate its 20th anniversary this summer. As we undergo this lifelong metamorphosis and evolution, we must remember the reason and purpose we embarked on this journey: to help people suffering with illness and to leave a lasting legacy that means something to the world. As a lifelong member of the Alumni Association, you will be the future force-multipliers and game changers for Cleveland Clinic and for each other. “Every life deserves world class care” will be your personal calling card that you can carry to every new hospital, workplace, and community to leave a meaningful impact.

Though you are already talented by virtue of your rigorous training at the Cleveland Clinic, here are some additional “life tips” to help you on the ongoing personal and professional journey to be and to become the best version of yourself possible:

  • Be a lifelong learner, constantly reflecting and reinventing yourself.
  • To whom much is given, much is expected. Live up to what was invested in you.
  • Embrace lessons from and don't fear failure or disappointment.
  • Don’t be afraid to be a late bloomer, pacing yourself with a “marathon mentality”. Your priorities and obligations now may not be the same as they are in 10 years.
  • Take risks, including always risking being your authentic self.
  • Do the fundamentals and grow from principles when no one is watching.
  • Be a student of process.
  • Stay humble and grounded, but unapologetic in your growth.
  • Surround yourself by winners and those who inspire/teach; silence the noise.
  • Create a track record of excellence.
  • Don't just make work your passion; have a hobby that brings you joy.
  • No matter the outcome or potential setbacks in your future career, remember that you are a valuable human being, able to help others while continuing to grow.
  • Invest in assets, including yourself and your inner circle, knowing that you can't buy back time spent with family and friends, or time wasted in not being your true self.

Advertisement

Related Articles

Ad