Gauri Varadhachary, MD, Compassionate Leader, Caring and Brilliant Physician, Dies at 52

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Gauri Varadhachary, MD, Clinical Professor in Gastrointestinal (GI) Medical Oncology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, died on June 5, 2021. She was 52.

A member of the MD Anderson community for nearly 20 years, Dr. Varadhachary was remembered for her dedication to her patients, her selfless mentorship, and her compassionate leadership in a tribute from the MD Anderson Cancer Center, reprinted here.

Gauri Varadhachary, MD

Gauri Varadhachary, MD

Deep Thinker, Deeply Caring Physician

“Gauri was a natural, soft-spoken leader who built consensus and developed action plans without fanfare,” said Robert Wolff, MD, Professor of GI Medical Oncology at MD Anderson.

Dr. Wolff noted that Dr. Varadhachary was widely respected for her service as Center Medical Director of the GI Cancer Center, where she embraced the center’s Goals of Care initiatives and served on the ICU Utilization Review Committee. Most recently, she gave much of her time to organizing COVID-19 vaccination efforts for patients at MD Anderson, which helped set the national standard for immunocompromised patients with cancer.

“Dr. Varadhachary was a compassionate leader for our medical oncology faculty,” said Christopher Flowers, MD, Ad Interim Division Head of Cancer Medicine at MD Anderson. “She possessed the outstanding combination of simultaneously being a deep thinker and deeply caring for her patients and colleagues. She always modeled the careful attention to detail that engaged colleagues, and patients and their families.”

In addition to her work with MD Anderson’s GI Cancer Center, Dr. Varadhachary served as Special Advisor to the Chief Medical Officer and then the Chief Medical Executive. In this role, she provided strategic guidance on building the physician leadership structure across the ambulatory and inpatient spheres, and she provided collaborative leadership on several major initiatives that greatly and positively impacted patients and the institution.

“Gauri was deeply committed to MD Anderson and our mission,” said Welela Tereffe, MD, Chief Medical Executive at MD Anderson. “I was privileged to know her and to count her as a trusted counselor and friend.”

A ‘Strong, Caring, and Graceful Leader’

Dr. Varadhachary joined MD Anderson in 2003 as Assistant Professor of GI Medical Oncology, becoming Associate Professor in 2006 and Full Professor in 2012. Throughout her career, she was known for her dedication to quality patient care and for her generosity with her time, energy, and empathy. 

Her colleagues will miss her smile and her generous, caring nature toward everyone across the institution. Many junior faculty noted her willingness to help them, be it with advice on setting up a research program or for a difficult clinical case. Her thoughtful conversations about career planning and leadership were deeply appreciated by those she taught, and many of those she mentored have gone on to be leaders in their fields.

“Dr. Varadhachary was a true force of nature—a strong, caring, and graceful leader and oncologist whom I’ve looked up to and learned from for more than a decade,” said Matthew Katz, MD, Professor of Surgical Oncology at MD Anderson. “She continually challenged me to do better and to be better, inside and outside the hospital. I’m so proud to call her a mentor and dear friend.”

Dr. Varadhachary was a leading expert in the diagnosis and treatment of occult primary tumors, and she served as Vice Chair of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s Guidelines Subcommittee for Occult Primary tumors. Her active research portfolio in pancreatic cancer helped define borderline resectable pancreatic cancer and a multidisciplinary management strategy. She had many collaborators across the institution, including Anirban Maitra, MBBS, Professor of Pathology and Translational Molecular Pathology.

“Dr. V was the first person to welcome me to MD Anderson, to speak about our pancreas research program,” Dr. Maitra recalled. “She became the central cog of the clinical aspects of our program, and we truly depended on her for so much. Her patients loved her and her dedication to them and to their well-being.”

Not only dedicated to her patients, Dr. Varadhachary was determined to make a difference with their research as well. Dr. Maitra noted that she was always busy designing trials, writing papers, holding planning meetings, and more.

“I truly don’t think we could have accomplished half of what we have without her Herculean efforts,” he said.

“Dr. Varadhachary was the exemplar of a caring and brilliant physician—an inquisitive researcher and a dear friend and colleague,” added James Yao, MD, Chair of GI Medical Oncology at MD Anderson. “She was a leader not only in the department and the GI Cancer Center, but also in the institution and the field. We’re grateful to have received her perspective and advice.”

Dr. Varadhachary was known to have a fierce love of her family and to enjoy good food and travel. She is survived by her husband, Atul Varadhachary, MD, PhD, and her two daughters, Riya and Tanvi.