Aswin Mathew, MD, is an interventional cardiologist practicing in Philadelphia. He is board certified in internal medicine, cardiovascular disease, echocardiography, nuclear cardiology and interventional cardiology. He is also certified by the Alliance for Physician Certification & Advancement in vascular ultrasound interpretation. His areas of interest are complex coronary artery disease and peripheral vascular disease.
Can you tell us a little about yourself before you went to medical school?
I’m originally from Philadelphia, and I grew up here. This is home for me. I went to Central High School and to Temple University for undergrad, so I have been here for a long time. I’m a true Philly sports fan. I follow baseball and hockey, but I’m a huge Eagles and Sixers fan and have season tickets to the Sixers.
When did you know you wanted to become a doctor?
I knew from an early age. There were a few doctors in my family. My 5th grade yearbook actually says that I wanted to be an interventional cardiologist.
I wouldn’t think most fifth graders would know what an interventional cardiologist is.
The only reason I knew was because I had an uncle who was an interventional cardiologist. He had some really cool cars, and at that age I was like, “Whatever he does, I want to do.” As I got older, I knew that I wanted to help people and wanted to really be doing something where I could make a difference. I think I knew becoming a doctor was going to be a lot of work and a lot of time, but I knew that I enjoyed it more than anything else.
When you did go to medical school, were you still committed to becoming a cardiologist?
I was all over the place. I had thought I wanted to be a surgeon for a while. Then I liked cardiology a lot, and I also liked internal medicine. After doing some surgery rotations, I realized that it wasn’t right for me. I really wanted to be able to build relationships with patients, so I ended up choosing internal medicine.
Once I chose internal medicine, I focused on cardiology because you meet people when they’re extremely vulnerable. When people are having a heart attack or a heart problem, you can really change their life. If you’re able to build a connection or a relationship with them, you can direct them to do things that they’ve never been able to do before and make healthy changes in their life. And I like interventional cardiology because I like being able to instantly do something that makes someone feel better. If someone comes in with a heart attack, we can do an angioplasty or put a stent in, and they instantly feel better.
For people who don’t know what an interventional cardiologist does, can you explain it?
We treat people when they come in with heart attacks or when they choose to come in electively as an outpatient, meaning not as someone admitted to the hospital for care. We perform minimally invasive procedures to open up blockages in the heart, and we can do structural procedures as well. In addition to that we can put stents anywhere there is a blood vessel, so we may work in the lower extremities for people who are having pain and decreased blood flow to the legs, or we may be placing a stent in someone’s neck for increased blood flow to the brain.
What are the risk factors for people to develop cardiovascular disease?
If you have a family history of heart disease, it puts you at a higher risk, but there’s also a lot of environmental things, such as your diet that may increase your risk. Your lifestyle definitely makes a difference. If you’re eating red meat every day and you’re smoking, chances are you’re probably going to end up with heart disease, no matter how good your genetics are. Lack of exercise is another issue. I recently read a study that said if you can do 50 consecutive pushups, you’re 10 times less likely to have heart disease. That just goes to show if you’re living an active lifestyle, you’re less likely to develop heart disease.
You mentioned earlier meeting vulnerable patients and telling them they need to make changes. Are those the changes you’re talking about?
Yes. Stop smoking, eat healthy and be active. That’s the mantra.
Beyond interventional cardiology, what things do you specialize in?
I practice a lot of internal medicine and general cardiology as well. I can read echocardiograms and nuclear stress tests. Additionally, I read vascular ultrasounds to look for blockages, clots or other problems in other parts of the body.
You did your residency and fellowships here. What was your experience like?
I had a very positive experience, and that’s why I ended up joining the faculty. Everyone here prioritizes patient care, which is really important. We have a very wide patient population, and I think everyone gets equally excellent care no matter their background or situation. In addition to that, the faculty here really care about the residents and the fellows. They spend a lot of time helping to develop these young physicians into doctors who can work independently in any situation—not just at a large academic center, but they can also go into a rural setting and still be able to succeed.
Did you always see yourself working in an academic environment?
I went back and forth a lot, but I love it. After I had taken this job, I told multiple people I love it more than I ever thought I would. I love working with the fellows and teaching. It forces you to stay on top of everything that is happening in the field.
Do you find the environment to be collaborative here?
Yes, very much so. I can call my colleagues at any time to help guide patient care. I think that’s what makes Drexel Medicine such a great place. We all work together to really advance patient care and do the patient justice. Everything we do is for the patient.
Since you’re from here, I imagine it’s safe to say you like living and working in Philly.
I love it! I grew up here. My parents still live in far Northeast Philly. I live in Northern Liberties. My wife is from Philadelphia, so this is our home base. I’ve spent time in other cities, and I cannot imagine living anywhere else.
Do you have any hobbies outside of work?
As I said earlier, I am a huge Philly sports fan, so I’m always going to games or getting together with friends to watch games. My wife and I also love to travel. In the last year, we have been to five different countries with our one year old. Also having a toddler at home keeps me busy. Usually I do whatever she wants to do that keeps her active. My wife and are also about to have another kid, so we’ll have two under two years old. It’s going to be an exciting time.