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Growing up in a small town in New Mexico, Dr. Sima Desai
remembers a local surgeon who had a remarkable impact on his
patients and the community. Seeing how the surgeon gave back to the
community exposed Dr. Desai to the giving nature of the medical
profession. "When I first thought about being a physician I thought
it would be a profession about doing things, rather than giving
back, and it was the giving part of being a physician that really
struck a chord with me and became my road to medicine."
When entering medical school at the University of New Mexico,
Dr. Desai was torn between choosing pediatrics and internal
medicine. She was drawn towards internal medicine because of the
mentors she had in medical school. "Often the mentors that you find
and the kinds of people that you think you would be happiest
sharing your professional life with play a major role in choosing
your career path in medicine."
Medical school was a pivotal time in Dr. Desai's life. "I grew
in a way that I had never grown before and I attribute that to my
mentors and colleagues as well as my interactions with patients,"
said Dr. Desai. She believes that students are in a very privileged
place to interact with their patients. "It is those experiences as
a student that allows you to say 'Wow, I have the privilege to be
part of this person's life and his or her health care.'"
Dr. Desai had many important mentors in medical school that
helped her to evolve as a student. She was drawn to the idea of
treating adults and the opportunity to have families involved in
patient care. She found various similarities between other
residents in internal medicine and herself and was excited at the
thought that her peers would become her professional family. By her
fourth year of medical school, she realized that her mentors had
become her role models and she wanted to give back to the medical
community in the same way that her mentors had done.
Leaving New Mexico was a hard decision for Dr. Desai but one she
does not regret. Her mentor suggested that she interview for
residency outside of New Mexico to gain a different perspective and
suggested interviewing for an internal medicine residency program
at the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland,
Oregon. During her interview, Dr. Desai had the opportunity to meet
Dr. Tom Cooney, Program Director of the Internal Medicine Residency
Program and a future mentor. After completing 14 different
residency interviews Dr. Desai matched with the OHSU Internal
Medicine Residency Program. "As I tell students now, you may think
it is hard to imagine making a decision about the next three years
of your life based on visiting a school for one day, but there is
something to be said about trusting your intuition."
During medical school and residency, Dr. Desai had never seen
herself as a teacher. Even now in her role as Program Director of
the Internal Medicine Residency Program she feels that she has much
When Dr. Desai was a second year resident, she was the leader of
her residency team and enjoyed the aspects of teaching and working
together in a team dynamic. Several of her mentors at OHSU
encouraged Dr. Desai to apply for the chief resident position.
After receiving the position, she began to develop an appreciation
for being in a teaching environment that was both exciting and
After finishing her chief residency position, Dr. Desai and two
of her colleagues were approached by Dr. Alan Hunter, a faculty
member at OHSU, and asked to begin a program for hospitalists at
OHSU. Dr. Hunter asked if Dr. Desai and her colleagues would like
to be the inaugural faculty in the hospitalist program. "It was the
opportunity of a lifetime, to be given salary support to be both a
clinician and an educator."
Several years later, Dr. Cooney approached her and asked if she
would be interested in the position of Associate Program Director
at OHSU. By this time Dr. Desai realized that the two things that
she loved the most were taking care of patients and teaching and
accepted Dr. Cooney's offer. "They continually challenge me to
become better than I am," said Dr. Desai of the students and
residents she teaches.
Dr. Desai laughs that she could never see herself as the Program
Director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program at OHSU but now
has the unique privilege of sitting in the same office where her
mentor Dr. Cooney once sat.
Dr. Desai took over the position of Internal Medicine Program
Director after Dr. Cooney's 26 year tenure in the position. Dr.
Desai faced the challenge of stepping into Dr. Cooney's shoes and
making sure the legacy that he created at OHSU continues. Dr. Desai
looks forward to leaving her own mark on the Internal Medicine
Residency Program and believes she is in a position to improve the
educational environment of internal medicine residency programs for
residents. The experience for Dr. Desai has been both exciting and
challenging; "In the end as an educator, what you really to strive
for is to ensure that the residents that graduate from your program
can be the very best at what they do because that's what patients
and the public deserve."
Dr. Desai balances her role as Internal Medicine Program
Director and mother to her six-year-old son. "Maintaining life-work
balance is a scale that tips back and forth for me. When I find I
am spending more time at work, then I try to be conscious and
actively self reflect on what I should do to maintain as much
equality in my life as possible."
She spends her free time participating in activities with her
son such as basketball, baseball and Tae kwon do. In addition to
spending time with her partner of 16 years and her son, Dr. Desai
enjoys biking to work, hiking and cross country skiing.
She credits her membership with ACP as another huge pivotal part
of her life. As a young faculty member, Dr. Desai received the
Walter J. McDonald Award for Young Physicians from ACP. As a result
of receiving this award, she was given a chance to be part of ACP's
Council of Young Physicians. "Being a part of ACP allowed me to
evolve in my thinking and offered me a chance to meet extraordinary
people who have made me a better leader and educator. If a position
paper came through or policy went into effect, being part of the
Council of Young Physicians gave me an opportunity for my voice to
Throughout her leadership roles with ACP, Dr. Desai served as
the Vice Chair and Chair of the Council of Young Physicians and was
also an ex officio member of the Board of Regents. " It was such a
privilege to watch how a large group of physicians who can have
very different opinions can come to a middle place and have an
organized thought about our values and what we care about as
Dr. Desai continues her involvement with ACP at the local level
with the ACP Oregon chapter and remains in contact with several of
April 2011 Issue of IMpact
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