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  • Dr. Debra Miller named Onslow Memorial's 2017 Doctor of the Year

Dr. Debra Miller named Onslow Memorial's 2017 Doctor of the Year

“Dr. Miller embodies a spirit of service and compassion, to patients and to the community, using the best evidence-based medicine with patient- and family-centered care.”

Dr. Debra Miller, a board-certified oncologist at Southeastern Medical Oncology Center of Jacksonville, has been named Onslow Memorial Hospital’s 2017 Doctor of the Year.

The selection panel for the prestigious honor was comprised of Dr. Tammy Reed, Dr. Donna Anderson, and Dr. Cecilia Nashatizadeh (quoted above). They were tasked with discovering the candidate who stood “above and beyond the rest.” Not an easy job, given the field of 25 outstanding physician nominees.

“The selection process had to be extremely thorough,” explains Dr. Nashatizadeh, Chair of Medicine and Family Practice. “Because so many of the nominees were exceptional in terms of their knowledge, communication skills, and patient advocacy, we looked at a second level of criteria – and that was each physician’s service to the community.”

One name rose to the top. 

“I was shocked – really,” laughs Dr. Miller. “I was honored just to be considered among my colleagues. I feel very blessed and humbled by this recognition.”

From the age of 12, growing up outside of Forth Worth, Texas, Debra Miller was fascinated with science, and felt called to a service-oriented profession. During a medical residency at Vanderbilt, she quickly realized oncology would be the perfect field to engage both mind and spirit.

Today, Dr. Miller says her faith and optimism see her through even the toughest days with cancer patients. Her positive outlook is evident to patients and staff alike, Dr. Nashatizadeh confirms.

“She’s one of those rare individuals that never has a bad day. She’s always upbeat and positive – always ready and able to help her patients in any way she can.”

Dr. Miller’s patient care philosophy is simple:

“When you’re being told you have cancer, it’s got to be one of the worst things you can ever imagine. So I always try to remember, how would I want someone to treat me or my family member? Because I do believe you should treat your patients like you would your family.”

Dr. Miller is passionate about advances in targeted cancer therapies and treatments that activate the immune system. “For the first time ever, we are seeing fewer deaths from cancer,” she says. Yet sometimes, a patient may not experience a lasting cure. That’s where faith comes in.

“I have a very strong faith, and if I can help transition people to a better place, that’s how I look at it. If a patient passes from cancer, I do believe there is a better place where they continue to exist – where there is no more illness and they are no longer suffering.”

That said, Dr. Miller’s aim is for each and every patient to have the longest, healthiest life possible. If there is one thing that frustrates her, it’s the notion that money influences the quality of care.

“I don’t base my treatment based on your income,” she says, with unwavering conviction.

“What I feel sad about is that a lot of people have a misperception that if they don’t have money or insurance, they can’t see a doctor. There are lots of practices, including ours, that take patients without any kind of income or insurance.”

In 2016, Southeastern Medical Oncology Center offices (Jacksonville, Wilson, Clinton, and Goldsboro, NC) raised $250,000 through fundraising events. “Our practice works very hard to get grants and raise money through our nonprofit organization. I’m very proud of that,” Dr. Miller says. “Every bit of the money goes to help patients.”

“Many of Dr. Miller’s nominations talked about her unfailing compassion and commitment to quality patient care,” Dr. Nashatizadeh recalls. “Above and beyond that, it was clear that her community involvement was unsurpassed.”

The passion and commitment to reach out beyond one’s practice, to sense the needs of others in the greater community, is a key tenet of Onslow Memorial Hospital’s mission. The Doctor of the Year award “continues to encourage and foster that mission moving forward,” Dr. Nashatizadeh says. “We see that commitment and conviction in Dr. Miller every day.”