Meet the Doctor: Sadia Benzaquen, MD
Sadia Benzaquen, MD, is Chair of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine of the Einstein Healthcare Network. Dr. Benzaquen is board certified in pulmonology, interventional pulmonology and critical care medicine. He is a fellow of the American College of Chest Physicians, the American Thoracic Society and the American College of Physicians.
Dr. Benzaquen came to Einstein in September 2019 from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he was Director of Interventional Pulmonology, Associate Professor of Clinical Internal Medicine and the Interventional Pulmonology Fellowship Director.
We spoke with Dr. Benzaquen recently about his career, his interests, and pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine at Einstein.
Q: Why did you decide to become a doctor?
A: I wanted to become a doctor ever since I was a child. I always liked science, and I like to help people. I think that those two things together made me want to be a doctor.
Q: Tell us about your educational background.
A: I grew up in Venezuela and went to a Jewish day school there. After I finished my high school, I went to the biggest university in Venezuela, Universidad Central, in Caracas. The medical school program is six and a half years. Then you work as a general practitioner in underserved areas for a year. After that I did three years of internal medicine residency and a fellowship in critical care at the Universidad Central de Venezuela.
In 2003, I decided to move to the U.S. to start everything again. I did my internal medicine residency and then a fellowship in pulmonary critical care here at Einstein. Then I did a year of interventional pulmonology at the Chicago Chest Center. I was trained by one of the most renowned interventional pulmonologists in the world, Kevin Kovitz.
Q: How did you decide that pulmonology was the specialty you wanted to pursue?
A: I decided to do pulmonary critical care mainly because of the critical care part, because I am good with my hands and I think nothing is better than to use all your knowledge to help someone who is really sick. But you can’t do critical care all the time because it’s pretty intense, and you can get burned out easily. I picked interventional pulmonology because I like the inpatient procedures probably even more than the office interaction. I also do rounds in the ICU every four to six weeks, and so pulmonology and critical care is a perfect mix.
Q: What are your principal clinical interests?
A: I am an interventional pulmonologist, so I perform advanced procedures for benign and malignant pulmonary diseases. For example, I do advanced diagnostic procedures within the pulmonary field and I perform minimally invasive procedures to avoid major surgery for patients and improve their quality of life. Interventional pulmonology is usually linked with lung cancer, lung nodules, pleural disease and benign airway disease. I’m interested as well in the new minimally invasive procedures for asthma and COPD, including thermoplasty and endoscopic lung volume reduction.
Q: What drew you to accept this position at Einstein?
A: My wife is from Cherry Hill, N.J., and she always told me that if a job opened on the East Coast I should come back, so I accepted this opportunity to become a department chair. I already did interventional pulmonology for 10 years, so this is a new challenge for me. But I’m coming to a place where I already know the culture because I was here for six years during my residency and fellowship
Q: What’s new in pulmonology, critical care and sleep medicine at Einstein?
A: My vision is to develop different areas of expertise in pulmonary and critical care. Right now we have Gabriel Patarroyo Aponte, MD who is the chief of the ICU. We have Ena Gupta, MD, a specialist in interstitial lung disease. We have Bhavna Sharma, MD, who is interested in sleep medicine and also noninvasive ventilation and pulmonary rehabilitation. Karan Chugh, MD, just came from Indiana, and he does sleep medicine and asthma. Joanna Santa Cruz, MD, is our Pulmonology and Critical Care Fellowship Director. She’s also interested in interventional pulmonology, asthma and biologic treatments of people with lung disease.
I’m actively interviewing for a new director of the sleep department. I’m also recruiting a pulmonary critical care physician because Michael Walkenstein, MD, is retiring in June. He’s somebody that I really admire, and he’s been here for many years and trained many, many people, including me.
I also bring a totally new area of expertise in interventional pulmonology to Einstein. For example, I have a lot of experience with endobronchial valves. I was one of the principal investigators of the EMPROVE trial using valves for emphysema. I also perform a lot of a procedure called cryobiopsy, which is when you freeze part of the lung for a few seconds, and then you take a piece of tissue that is bigger than a regular biopsy. I use it for a lot of things, but mainly for interstitial lung disease.
Beyond our excellence in medical care, the other thing I see that differentiates Einstein is that we are here to serve the community and really care about the community.
Q: What are your interests outside of work?
A: I like to play soccer and basketball. I like good movies and also theater.
Q: Do you have a favorite movie?
A: I liked Scent of a Woman with Al Pacino. He did an amazing job in that movie.
Q: Do you have a favorite book?
A: I enjoyed a novel that I read in Spanish, Doña Barbara by Rómulo Gallegos.
Q: Do you have a favorite sports team?
A: The national soccer team in Brazil and also a Brazilian club team, Bodafogo.
Q: Do you have a favorite vacation spot?
A: I grew up in Venezuela, and I love Margarita Island. The last time I was there, sadly, was 2008.
Q: Did you have an early role model?
A: My parents. They migrated from Morocco to Venezuela in the 1960s. My father was a businessman who always worked hard to do the best for us. My mother took care of us at home, took us to school and inculcated all the values that made me what I am now.
Q: Is there a person you’d be most interested in meeting?
A: I always wanted to meet Elie Wiesel. He came to Venezuela many times, but I never had the opportunity to meet him.
Learn more about Pulmonary and Critical Care at Einstein.