Persons of Indian origin who are a picture of American health
While Indian IT professionals and entrepreneurs have made a mark in the US, Indian doctors too have notched up some significant achievements.
Earlier this week, Nova Southeastern University (NSU) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida received the largest ever philanthropic gift in its history. The donors: Tampa-based cardiologist Kiran C Patel and his wife, pediatrician Pallavi Patel. The commitment from the Patel Family Foundation includes a $50 million gift and an additional $150 million in real estate and investment in a 3,25,000 sq-ft medical education complex that will be part of NSU’s new Tampa Bay regional campus.
The Patels are known for their philanthropic and community outreach activities. In addition to the gift to NSU, the couple have also committed $200 million to set up a 40-hectare medical studies campus near Vadodara in Gujarat by 2019 in a tie-up with NSU. Lectures will be beamed to the college in Gujarat from Florida along with live interaction with the professors.
“For me, as a doctor and as an immigrant in the US, there can’t be a better way to make a difference to healthcare both in the US and in India than educate and train doctors and other medical professionals. Doctors like me who have done well here can best give back to the community by helping cutting-edge medical education,” Kiran Patel told ET Magazine on phone. The Zambiaborn cardiologist, who went to medical school in Gujarat, entered the healthcare business in the US in 1992.
He went on to build a network of health insurance and managed healthcare companies worth billions of dollars.
The Patels’ philanthropic journey started way back in 2004 when they donated $5 million to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center to establish the Dr Pallavi Patel Performing Arts Conservatory. In 2005, they also donated $3 million to set up the Patel Center for Global Solutions at the University of South Florida. “I feel that I’m blessed to have become a successful entrepreneur and that’s why I’m able to make a much bigger impact as a doctor,” Patel, who has also set up hospitals in Kenya, Zambia and Tanzania, added.
The Patels are one of the best examples of doctors of Indian origin making a big impact on the American healthcare system. But it’s only lately that Indian-American doctors are being seen in bigger roles as policy makers, cutting-edge researchers, influential authors and entrepreneurs.
Vanila Singh, an Indian-American anesthesiologist from Stanford, was recently appointed chief medical officer in the office of the assistant secretary of health at the Department of Health and Human Services at Washington DC. Singh feels that, as an immigrant and a doctor, it is a privilege to be able to shape America’s health policy. “As a physician who has been closely involved with my patients, I feel I can bring their perspective to the table.
My role in medical education at Stanford University will also help me in shaping medical policy matters,” Singh told ET Magazine on phone. While the department of health and human services has identified the opioid epidemic in America as a focus area, mental health and childhood obesity, too, will see a policy outreach.
“The opioid epidemic is impacting men and women of all communities, including Indian-Americans. Having been a clinical professor of anesthesiology at Stanford and specialising in chronic pain issues for many years, I have seen it from close up and have the necessary skills to address it,” she said. Singh will also be addressing the high incidence of diabetes among South Asians in the US.
From IT to Life Sciences
While Indian IT professionals and entrepreneurs have made a mark in the US, Indian doctors too have notched up some significant achievements. Vivek Murthy became the surgeon general of the US in 2014 and was the country’s leading spokesperson for public health in the Barack Obama administration. Rajiv J Shah, now president of the Rockefeller Foundation, was the head (administrator) of US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the senior-most Indian-American official in the Obama administration. And writer-doctor Atul Gawande’s books (Being Mortal, The Checklist Manifesto, Better) have now become global bestsellers.
American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) is a network of over 60,000 multispecialty physicians of Indian origin. As the second largest medical association in the US, AAPI is focussed on bringing to the forefront important health issues facing the physician community and raising their voice unitedly before the US Congress Shiladitya Sengupta trained at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi and later went on for a fellowship in biological engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, before joining Harvard Medical School as a faculty member in the department of medicine with a joint appointment at MIT. Sengupta feels that entrepreneurship is becoming a natural step for doctors who want to take their cutting-edge research to the people. “I cofounded Cerulean Pharmaceuticals, Mitra Biotech, Vyome Biosciences and Invictus Oncology. Once we understand what is happening at a biological level, we can develop medicines, which is what I do.” He started the last three companies in India because he wanted to create an innovation ecosystem in life sciences in India, along with job opportunities to attract some of the best brains in life sciences back to India.
Stepping out of their comfort zone is what many doctors of Indian origin in the US are now doing. Navin Shah, a senior urologist in Maryland and director of medical education mid-Atlantic urology associates, is an example.
He is leading efforts over the past few years to press US Congress to change rules for screening of prostate cancer among older men. “In the last couple of years I have published four papers on urology on this topic and I’m also awaiting a meeting with the HHS secretary on this issue of PCa screening.” He reckons that with Indian-American doctors doing well in the US and many of them heading committees and important organisations at different levels, it is now time for them to raise their voices on important issues.
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