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Rahul Rajkumar, MD, JD, FACP
Current Position: Senior Advisor, Center for
Medicare & Medicaid Innovation
Medical School: Yale University
Law School: Yale University
Residency: Brigham and Women's Hospital,
"Lightning in a bottle"
From the Urban Dictionary:
• Capturing something powerful and elusive and then being able
to hold it and show it to the world.
• Performing a rare feat.
• A moment of creative brilliance.
In 2008, when President Obama was elected to his first term as
President of the United States, his senior campaign advisor David
Axelrod described the victory as "lightning in a bottle." The
electrifying experience and sentiment was shared by everyone
connected to the Obama campaign, including Rahul Rajkumar, MD, JD,
Five years later, the elation in Dr. Rajkumar's voice can still
be heard. "Even now," he says, "when I see others from the
campaign, I just want to give them a hug. It truly was a historic
moment, something I will tell my grandchildren about."
Dr. Rajkumar's involvement with the campaign began when he was
completing his medical residency at Boston's Brigham and Women's
Hospital and a few law school friends approached him and asked if
he would join the campaign's health care policy committee. As a
graduate of Yale University's combined MD-JD program and an
enthusiastic advocate for health care reform, Dr. Rajkumar was an
A man with many hats
What kind of person pursues a medical degree and law degree
simultaneously? Someone who is very smart, extremely focused, who
wants to serve the health care system at the policy/leadership
level. Someone like Dr. Rajkumar, who says he was encouraged to
pursue the dual degree program by another doctor-lawyer, Dr. David
Kessler, who was then Dean of Yale University's Medical School and
former Commissioner of the Food & Drug Administration.
After working on the campaign and the Presidential transition
team, Dr. Rajkumar went to work for McKinsey & Company, a
strategic consulting firm, where he helped hospital executives and
health care payers respond to new health care policies. His work
with payers, i.e., the business side of medicine, brought his
experience full circle. With his unique background in the areas of
medicine, law, politics, and business he was well-positioned to
take on the responsibilities of his current position as Senior
Advisor to the Director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid
The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation is charged with
moving the nation's health care system away from its current
fee-for-service model to more innovative payment/delivery models
made possible by the Affordable Care Act-models such as Accountable
Care Organizations, Bundled Care, and the Primary Care Initiative.
"A fee-for-service system creates incentives that increase volume
and fragmentation of care," says Dr. Rajkumar. "In my work at the
Center, we are testing new ways for paying and delivering care that
will ultimately lead to improved quality and lower costs."
From books to baseball
Born in the Queens section of New York City to physician parents
who moved to the United States from New Delhi, India, and then
later growing up in upstate New York, Dr. Rajkumar knew that he
always wanted to be a doctor. When it came time to choose his
discipline, he says, "I loved pathophysiology and the reasoning
style of internists, their level of thinking is so deep."
Dr. Rajkumar's passion for medicine was cultivated by some very
accomplished mentors, beginning with his parents who are both
internists. His mother is a geriatrician, his father is a
pulmonary-critical care specialist, and both are ACP Fellows. In
fact, Dr. Rajkumar and his father applied for fellowship at the
same time and are hoping to walk together at next year's
convocation ceremony in Orlando.
"My parents viewed education as the way to invent oneself," says
Dr. Rajkumar. "They invested a lot in my education-sending me to
private schools and tutoring me; I even recall my father taking me
into a medical lab when I was five years old to show me throat
cultures under a microscope." He describes himself as a passionate
student and voracious reader; and, his childhood trips to India
instilled in him an ethos of service to others. Growing up, he also
developed a passion for baseball and is still an avid New York Mets
fan. "Being a Mets fan builds character," he says.
Relationships, the right stuff
Mentors also build character, and Dr. Rajkumar is grateful for
the many great doctors he has met along the way. In addition to the
influence of Dr. Kessler and his parents, Dr. Jim Kim served as an
important mentor for Dr. Rajkumar during his time working as an
advisor to the World Health Organization. Dr. Kim is now President
of the World Bank. Another friend and mentor is Richard Baron, MD,
MACP, whom he met at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid
Innovation and who is now President & CEO of ABIM.
Dr. Rajkumar's advice to medical students is "focus like a laser
on becoming a great doctor, it is the single most important thing."
When asked what makes a doctor "great," he replies, "A great doctor
possesses scientific acumen, an ability to listen, and a
willingness to help others."
Dr. Rajkumar's willingness to help others extends beyond his
policy work. He is also a practicing internist who sees patients at
the Washington, DC Veterans Administration Medical Center. Dr.
Rajkumar says clinical medicine remains at his core. "Medicine is
about service to others. To this day, I am humbled when patients
allow me to step into their lives."
The task of reforming the nation's health care payment system
would seem a daunting task, one of those all-consuming pursuits
that can swallow a person whole, but Dr. Rajkumar finds balance in
his relationships as a husband, father, and doctor. He is married
to Kiran Ghia, a litigator who practices international law. The
couple has a 20-month-old son and is currently expecting their
In his spare time (what little there is), he loves to read,
especially long-form journalism and nonfiction. He also likes to
run and enjoys downhill skiing. He likes telling his friends, "I
believe myself to be the best Indian American downhill skier in the
country," and then laughs in acknowledgment that he has perhaps set
the bar low, since he has met very few skiers from the Indian
Being part of a community is important to Dr. Rajkumar, which is
why he joined ACP. "Both medicine and the way in which we deliver
care is changing rapidly, and the pace of change is going to
accelerate," he says, "it is important to be part of a professional
community that can be a source of information and support amidst
From "lightning in a bottle" to "focus like a laser," the
imagery of light well describes a brilliant career. As we navigate
the waters of change, there are stars among us who lend us their
light. Dr. Rahul Rajkumar-son, husband, father, physician,
lawyer-the man of many hats, who laughs easily and aspires to be a
"great doctor" is one of them.
June 2013 Issue of IMpact
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