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My Kind of Medicine: Real Lives of Practicing Internists
Dr. Shveta Shah Raju, MD, MBA
Internal Medicine Staff Physician and Quality Improvement Director at Gwinnett Clinic, Clinical Assistant Professor at the GRU/UGA Medical Partnership
Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA
Duke University, Durham VA Hospital, Durham, NC
Dr. Shveta Shah Raju spent her childhood reading and watching her parents practice medicine in their neighborhood. Now that she’s a clinician-educator herself, she spends her time treating patients and teaching the next generation of medical students in her hometown of Atlanta, Georgia.
“Understand your patients outside of the office”:
As a kid, Dr. Raju was a bright student who thrived in school and enjoyed reading fiction and nonfiction in her spare time.
“I enjoyed academics, and during middle and high school was involved with other extracurricular academic activities such as the math team and mock trial. With my parents being immigrants, they didn’t really know a lot about getting us involved in sports, but we did plenty of normal ‘kid’ stuff like going to summer camp and learning to play the piano,” she said.
Academic excellence was always the family’s focus, and Dr. Raju eventually went on to graduate as the valedictorian of her high school class. Having grown up with both parents in the medical field, she had always intended to become a doctor.
“I knew what my mom did as a primary care physician. She’s really involved in our community, and then I think when I was growing up—Atlanta was really different 25 years ago—her main office and our house and our school were all within a few miles of each other. We would always be running into patients or people that she worked with, and I saw what an impact she had on the community. I was always kind of drawn to that aspect of it, and I just never really thought of doing anything else,” she said.
Knowing that she would eventually study medicine, she approached her college years with a wide lens, double-majoring in biology and anthropology before obtaining a master’s degree in business at Emory University. Experiencing these different fields gave Dr. Raju a perspective that translated to clinical work in unexpected ways.
“I definitely had a broad-based, liberal arts experience at Emory majoring in anthropology, but I always kind of stuck to the plan of wanting to go to med school and practice medicine. I’m definitely very interested in how we deliver medicine and how to make it more efficient—we all have to learn about how medicine is financed, how that impacts our patients and how to make it better.”
While working on her business degree, she received an assignment which required her to devise creative ways to improve Atlanta’s public parks.
“We were divided up into four groups to look at different aspects of the Atlanta parks system and how it could potentially be improved to better serve the needs of the community, and then we presented our findings to the leadership of the parks department. We looked at all different aspects—how to make it better for athletes, people who use it for sports, how to make it better for kids and families,” she said.
Exercises like these led her to start thinking about the broader aspects of practicing medicine and how physicians can adjust their practices to better serve their communities.
“I think that as a primary care physician in particular, you have to really understand your patients outside of the office because so much of what we do, especially with preventive care, is counseling. If you don’t really understand what their circumstances are, what their barriers are, or you don’t even take an interest in those things, it’s really hard to be successful at motivating people to change—whether it’s compliance with medication or health behaviors. I think that’s been a pattern that’s becoming even more prominent as my career progresses—just understanding people, understanding their communities, their families, and how to optimize their health in that context.”
“Take advantage of it all”:
After completing a residency at the Massachusetts General Hospital and one year in a health services research fellowship at Duke University, Dr. Raju was hired as an Internal Medicine Physician and the Quality Improvement Director at the Gwinnett Clinic in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Gwinnett Clinic is a multi-specialty group that Dr. Raju’s father pioneered, and her parents and both of her siblings are also members of the practice.
“I wear several different hats. I see patients for about 32 to 35 hours a week in a clinical setting and outpatient office setting, which is very traditional primary care—I do preventive care, chronic disease management, and then there’s people coming in with mostly minor and then sometimes major illnesses where we end up referring them into the hospital. I also oversee and lead the quality and practice improvement part of our practice, so that’s everything from keeping up with program changes to understanding the new payment models and how our practice needs to adapt, while still keeping our patients under focus and not losing the things that have motivated so many of the doctors and clinicians in our group for so long.”
Dr. Raju is able to utilize several ACP resources to help her make these quality improvements in her practice. After officially becoming a member three years ago, she has attended several of Georgia’s chapter meetings and came to her first Internal Medicine Meeting in Boston in 2015.
“I think ACP has been really critical and helpful—first of all, just to be able to access the community of other doctors and practices and see what they’re doing, how they’re adapting—there were some really good questions at the national meeting. You know, how people have adapted to electronic medical records, changed their work-flows, what they’re doing with immunizations, how to improve reimbursement, things to help us understand MACRA. I think all those things are really helpful in addition to the other resources like CME and Annals.”
When she’s not practicing or fulfilling her duties as a quality improvement director, Dr. Raju is a clinical assistant professor at the GRU/UGA Medical Partnership in Athens, Georgia.
“There are three aspects of teaching that really encourage me—one is that when you’re teaching, you’re automatically learning new things yourself so it’s a really great aspect for the teacher, especially when you have really bright students, and most medical students are very bright and motivated individuals,” she said.
“Secondly, I think that it’s a really positive thing for patients when they see their doctor in a different role as a teacher, seeing and understanding that medicine is a process and that you learn how to become a doctor—I think it really broadens the patient’s perspective. And then the third aspect is just getting to know young future doctors—I don’t see how you could stay quite as motivated and excited about the future of medicine if you don’t meet and interact with the young people who are going to be carrying on the profession.”
Like the broad-based approach that she took with her own education, Dr. Raju’s advice for medical students is to absorb as many experiences as they can.
“Take the maximum advantage of all your clinical opportunities when you’re training, because it’s so true that once you’re done and have that stamp of approval, your opportunities for learning and interacting with other senior clinicians decrease. Just really take advantage of it all, whether it’s in the hospital, the clinic or wherever your rotations are, to learn as much as possible and ask lots of questions because you don’t have the opportunities again once you’re through with your training.”
“Blessed to have a lot of extended family”:
Dr. Raju’s husband, Dr. Dinesh Raju, is a neurologist who also works at the Gwinnett Clinic.
“People always ask me how it is to work with so many family members. We’re all in different locations and in the case of my husband in different departments—we see each other at the holiday party and support one another with our overall focus on patients and the success of Gwinnett Clinic. Fortunately, we don’t literally have to work side-by-side,” she joked.
The couple has two children, ages four and six. Dr. Raju enjoys being able to read with her children, and the young family is starting to travel more, which has always been a hobby of Dr. Raju and her husband.
“We haven’t ventured too far outside the southeast with our kids yet, but we definitely are looking forward to taking some trips more outside of the states again once they get a little older,” she said.
When she has a moment to herself, Dr. Raju makes an effort to exercise, read more books and stay in touch with her friends.
“I don’t have as much time as I used to since I was a student. By not being in school and not getting to interact with friends on a daily basis, we really have to make an effort to stay connected to friends who are not in our immediate vicinity, even the ones who live in Atlanta. One of the priorities for us is to get together with friends on the weekend to maintain those relationships,” she said.
Whenever they need someone to watch their kids, there are always plenty of family members willing to help out.
“My dad’s an orthopedic surgeon and my mom’s a family physician. They’re from India, they came to the United States in the late seventies and we have lots of extended family in Atlanta, so we’re very blessed to have a lot of extended family involved in helping us raise them as well.”
Through her childhood and until her early twenties, Dr. Raju and her family would regularly visit their relatives in India. Now that the majority of her family has moved to the United States, it’s been a few years since she last visited the country.
“I haven’t actually been back since 2001—my grandfather passed away, and then my grandmother moved here to Atlanta with my uncle, so I only have one aunt who is in India. All of my other aunts and uncles and immediate family are here in the States, so I haven’t had a chance to go back. But we definitely want to take our kids once they’re a little bit older.”