Sowmya Nagaraj, MD, FACP, FHM, discuss the privilege of helping and healing people


Sowmya Nagaraj, MD, FACP, FHM
Associate Program Director and Curriculum Director for Internal Medicine Residency at East Carolina University and Clinical Assistant Professor at the Brody School of Medicine, East Carolina University

JSS Medical College, Mysore, India

Hurley Medical Center, Michigan State University, Flint, MI

What is your current position?

I am the Associate Program Director and Curriculum Director for Internal Medicine Residency at East Carolina University and Clinical Assistant Professor at the Brody School of Medicine, East Carolina University.

Where did you attend medical school and postgrad training?

I attended JSS Medical College in Mysore, India and Hurley Medical Center, Michigan State University in Flint, MI for my postgraduate training.

Why did you choose to become a physician?

Growing up in India, I excelled in math and science as a kid. I was fascinated about engineering and wanted to become a Computer Science Engineer. It was during my second year of pre- university course that I decided to become a physician, thanks to all the endless mentoring from my father who always talked to me about service-oriented career. This helped me understand that medicine is beyond skills, profession, and pride. Medicine is a privilege to help and heal people. Hence, I chose medicine, and it proves to be true every single day in my practice

What field of Medicine did you select and why?

I really like this question because it was the detour that took me to the better destination than the chosen route. After graduating from medical school, I chose to train in Anesthesiology and completed one year training in one of the prestigious institutions in India, Narayan Hrudayalaya. Despite performing well in my training and learning new skills, I was missing direct patient interaction and continuity of care. It made me contemplate and realize, how my choice had turned into a hard bargain.

I had made a common mistake that most students make. I wanted to become “like my mentor” who was an anesthesiologist. I like to call it Impersonating bias. This along with poor self-reflection led me to impulsively chose Anesthesiology as my specialty.

Naturally the next question is How to overcome these tendencies and make better choices?

First and foremost, when we investigate some well-known factors in choosing a specialty like scholarly inclinations, role models (which was my case), money, lifestyle, and opportunities for sub- specialty training, we understand that each of these factors happen to have both pros and cons. Hence it is necessary to recognize, introspect and prepare a list of things that really matters and bargains marginal compromise. One should always bear in mind everybody’s list is different!

Secondly, one needs to consider all the dynamic fragments that could change the healthcare landscape, like Technological advancements and automations, Health policy- implications, Employment opportunities or job saturations, financial security, and Mental health impact. But the most important fragment which is mostly overlooked is “Oneself” that is, the person making the choice. It is a disastrous move to assume oneself to be constant fragment when in-fact is the most dynamic and evolving. What you wanted 10 years back is so much different than want you want now and will be very much different from what you will want in the next 10 years. You grow, you change and so does your list!

Using the above-stated strategies, I made my list with flexibility to grow, evolve and accommodate change. I quit Anesthesia training and chose Internal Medicine. Looking back after 12 years, all I can say is that I made one of the best decisions of my life.

Please describe a typical day in your practice.

As an academic faculty, I work on inpatient service exclusively. My team consists of a diverse group of residents (IM, Meds Peds, EM/IM, IM/Psych, PM&R, Psych and Prelims) and medical students from Brody School of Medicine (M3 and M4). We start our day with morning report followed by morning rounds and a collaborative rounding calling Point of care rounds with our case managers, nursing, pharmacy, and other ancillary services.  The team meets again in the afternoon for a teaching session followed by evening rounds to discuss updates, discharges, and plans for the next day.

What are some of your special interests professionally?

My areas of interest are Medical Education, Curriculum Development for Internal Medicine Residency Program, Research and Physician Wellness.

As an Associate Program Director, I enjoy working closely with the residents and University Graduate Medical Education GME as a liaison and leader. I am an active member of ACP for the past 10 years and it has been an inseparable part of my growth and learning.

What are your interests and hobbies outside of medicine?

Art and textiles have always fascinated me. I love to explore, paint, and collect paintings (like Pattachitra, Madhubani, Kalamkari, Pichwai from the Indian subcontinent, Fauvism, and Impressionism). I am very interested in Heritage textiles and indigenous weaves (like Mysore silk, which is locally woven in my hometown Mysore, Kanjeevaram, Ajrak, Patola and Muga silks). I am an avid reader of history especially Indology & geopolitics, and physics.

I enjoy travelling with my son Siddharth, with whom I have been able to explore most of the state parks and beaches over the past one year.

What advice would you like to share with medical students, or what do you wish someone would have told you while you were in medical school?

With my medical students and residents, I always share the most profound advice that was given to me by my mentor. It was to overcome the fear of failure and rejection. This can be accomplished by methodical preparation, conscious habituation of efficiency and working closely with a mentor.

Which talent would you most like to have?

I would like to be able to play an Indian Carnatic musical instrument called Veena. I wish I can play all my favorite ragas someday.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I am still learning to navigate life and it would be unwise to prematurely label any of my accolades as greatest achievements. I am very proud of how I have conducted myself particularly in challenging times. I have worked towards empowering myself personally and professionally, supporting family, prioritizing health and well being and standing-up for what is right.

Who is your hero of fiction?

Dr Strange is my favorite inspirational character. Despite losing dextral ability as a Neurosurgeon after a tragic event, he is determined to learn and master the unknown. This virtue helps him to let go of the ego, see beyond physical realities, achieve the impossible and become powerful.

What is your motto in life?

“Siddhirbhavathi Karmaja” is a quote from Bhagavad Geeta which translates to “Success always follows hard work and selfless service.”

Back to the June 2022 issue of ACP IMpact

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