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Steven P. Kanner, MD, spent 38 years as an oncologist, helping his patients fight off deadly cancers; today he helps cancer patients and others with life-limiting illness face impending death. As a hospice physician with VITAS Healthcare, Dr. Kanner’s job is not to cure his patients but to ensure they spend their last days, months or years in comfort.


To know Dr. Kanner is to laugh with him. He’s always ready with a joke or a teasing remark. When Dr. Kanner enters a patient’s home, he brings with him a smile that never quits and a sparkle in his eyes. His easygoing manner puts patients and family members at ease. And it’s not hard to see that the nurses, aides, social worker, chaplains and others on his team enjoy the good-natured bantering he encourages.


But when he’s making sure his patients are comfortable and that their caregivers are getting the support they need, he’s all business.


Hospice physicians have the flexibility to spend as much time with each patient as they need.

“I get to see my patients in their home, which is what I prefer,” he says. “I get to see them in their own environment—at home, in bed, with their family around. I feel strongly that there is no good reason for having someone with advanced disease in a hospital environment if they don’t need to be. It is always preferable for these patients to be at home.”


Dr. Kanner generally has about 60 patients under his care. He visits patients on a monthly basis unless they are on continuous care, in which case he sees them more often. On a typical day, Dr. Kanner visits seven to ten patients.


On this day, his first visit is with 86-year-old Diane (names of patients have been changed for privacy), who has advanced COPD. After washing his hands, he goes to the bedside and greets Diane, who is sleeping. She is on oxygen; he carefully puts the end of the stethoscope to her chest and listens. He asks the caregiver, “How’s she doing today?”


While the caregiver reports on Diane’s sleeping, eating and bowel frequency, Dr. Kanner removes a portable blood pressure machine from his traveling medical case. As he gently slips the cuff around Diane’s arm, he explains what he is doing. He checks for pressure ulcers on her hips and heels. The caregiver helps him lift Diane ever so slightly so he can place the stethoscope on her back to listen. He concentrates on her breathing, because altered patterns of breathing are a clue to how the patient is doing.


He will perform this routine checkup on every patient he sees today. Afterward, he will sit with each of their caregivers and go over the patient’s medications. He will listen intently as the caregivers tell him what they think the patient needs, and he will learn how those caregivers are holding up.


“Looking at the patient’s chart is important, but caregivers really tell me what’s going on,” Dr. Kanner says.


Dr. Kanner graduated from Howard University in Washington, DC. He earned his medical degree from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. He completed his residency and internship at Jackson Memorial Hospital through the University of Miami. After spending two years at the National Cancer Institute in Maryland, he opened a private oncology practice in 1972.


In 1987, while still in private practice, he joined VITAS on a part-time basis. After retiring from private practice in 2011, Dr. Kanner became a full-time hospice physician in the VITAS Hollywood, FL, office. He is also the Florida medical director of Palliative Medical Associates, a division of VITAS Healthcare.



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Steven P. Kanner, MD - America's Top 50 Doctors - Hospice/Palliative Care - CA

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