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Suchitra Behl, MD
Consultant for FORTIS C-DOC, Centre of Excellence for Diabetes,
Metabolic Diseases and Endocrinology, New Delhi, India
Indira Gandhi Medical College, Shimla, India
New York Medical College Metropolitan Hospital Centre Department of
Medicine, New York
Were you born in India? Tell us about your
I was born in Mumbai, India and spent the initial ten years of my
life there. Mumbai is a densely populated metropolitan city with a
long coastline. Going to the beach on weekends is one of my
earliest memories of the city. We have a small family-I have one
sister who is four years younger than me. People in Mumbai are very
friendly and many neighbors often become part of an extended
family. We lived in a high rise building and every evening was
filled with activities in and around the neighborhood.
My father worked in a financial institution and one of the
privileges included home visits by a physician. My earliest
memories of medicine involved our physician visiting us for
childhood fevers. He carried a briefcase with various bottles, a
thermometer, and spirit swabs and it seemed that he was no less
than a magician with hidden secrets.
When I was ten years old, my father joined the United Nations
Development Program (UNDP) and we relocated to Africa. The city of
Kampala in Uganda was a quiet, beautiful, spread out city. I became
interested in nature and wildlife photography and took my camera
along on our various trips to national parks and the
When and how did you make the decision that you wanted
to be a physician?
I returned to India and enrolled in high school. At that point, I
was undecided on what I wanted to do. Due to a good memory, I was
among the top scorers and I was interested in mathematics and
biology. At one point, I wanted to pursue a career in finance;
however, a senior school educator convinced me that I had more
aptitude towards medicine.
What made you choose internal medicine?
In India, medical school residencies are decided on the basis of
scoring in a combined entrance exam. I initially joined pathology,
but got bored looking through a microscope all day. I soon realized
that I derived personal satisfaction from interacting with patients
and solving their medical issues. This made me give up pathology
and join internal medicine.
Who do you consider the most influential person(s) in
your life and why?
There are various persons who have influenced my life. Dr. Shobhana
Chaudhari was the program director of internal medicine when I was
doing my internal medicine residency at Metropolitan Hospital
Centre affiliated with New York Medical College. She was a source
of encouragement and provided guidance. Professor Anoop Misra, who
is the Chairman of FORTIS C-DOC, Centre of Excellence for Diabetes,
Metabolic Diseases and Endocrinology is another mentor. Not only
did I learn from him the importance of examining a patient head to
toe and noting the minutest detail from nail growth to chest
expansion, but he also encouraged me to start a separate program
dedicated to obesity management.
Can you describe the work you do? What is a typical day
I work at a Centre for metabolic diseases. Most of the patients I
see have type 2 diabetes mellitus, thyroid disorders, obesity or
COPD. I also practice and admit patients in internal medicine.
About one and a half years ago, I started a three-month obesity
management program called 'Thinner'. In recent years, there has
been a tremendous increase in the prevalence of obesity in India,
mostly due to lifestyle issues. We have achieved success with many
of our patients, and the young adults are much happier.
What do you find most rewarding about your
I feel the most rewarding moments are when I am able to make a
patient feel better. While acute medical problems are easy to
diagnose and treat, chronic care problems like diabetes, obesity,
vitamin deficiencies, hypertension, and headache greatly impact the
quality of a person's daily life. Once they are accurately treated,
however, a sense of well-being is achieved. When patients, who have
been dealing unsuccessfully with weight issues come back and tell
me about how much happier they are, that is a rewarding moment.
I often get diabetic patients who are unhappy about their sugar
control and do not know what they are doing wrong. Once the
medications are adjusted and they are properly educated, they feel
empowered. I teach my patients to be in charge of their lives by
providing them basic education about their ailments.
What achievement(s) are you are most proud
My path to my current position and career was not a
straight-forward path. I have lived on three different continents,
and because of this, I had to repeat certain parts of my education.
Also, when I was about to start my internal medicine residency in
New York, my husband had to move back to India. I was faced with
the choice of not starting the residency in New York and moving
back with him to India, or staying alone in New York. The choice
was difficult because my son was three years old at that time.
Finally, I decided to join the residency program. Although the
three years were tough, because my son spent a good deal of time
with my husband in India, we were able to juggle our schedules
enough so we could spend time together. Today, with all of us
together, I am happy I made that decision because who I am and how
I practice today has been shaped by my different life
What do you find most challenging about being a
One of the most challenging things as a physician is balancing the
financial issues related to treatment in India. Medical clinic
visits are normally borne by the patient. Judicious diagnosis
involves doing tests one step at a time and avoiding unnecessary
testing. Taking a patient into confidence and sharing my plan
ensures my patient will be compliant with follow up care.
Is there any advice you would give to medical
Approach each patient as a learning experience. The more patients
you see the more confident you will be when practicing on your own.
Development of good clinical judgment is based on both theoretical
learning and practical experience. Follow your heart when choosing
what you want to specialize in.
Does everyone in India have access to health
Most people in India have access to health care through a
combination of government owned free and subsidized hospitals and
private hospital set ups. However, at many places the cost of
medications and tests is borne by the patient.
What are the biggest challenges facing the health care
system in India?
One of the biggest challenges in the Indian health care system is
ensuring uniformity of health care practices.
How did you get involved with the American College of
I was introduced to the American College of Physicians in the
second month of my internship by my program director Dr. Shobhana
Chaudhari. I presented a poster at the annual meeting. Since then,
I have been involved with ACP. I was very excited to hear about
ACP's presence in India.
Are you married? Any children?
My husband Amber Malhotra runs an asset management firm which is
developing building technologies to provide economic housing. My
son Aadi is ten years old and keenly interested in outer space and
What are your interests/hobbies?
One of the fixed things in my life is going for a walk in the City
Forest that is close to where we live. We are often greeted by
peacocks and other wild birds. I love reading, and various
autobiographies, contemporary Indian literature, and general light
reading are always on my bedside table. I love cooking and make it
a point to cook for my family at least once a week. I usually pick
a new recipe to try out.
What did you miss most about India when you were living
in New York?
Apart from family and friends, the thing I missed most was Indian
culture-our openness and our easy and whole-hearted acceptance of
strangers. I missed celebrating Indian festivals like Diwali, Holi
in the Indian way.
Is there anything you miss about New York or
I miss New York City in general, but what I miss most are Sunday
walks in Central Park and going to the Metropolitan Museum of
Is there anything (beyond medicine) that you feel
committed to, or are passionate about?
Apart from medicine, I have made it a point to improve awareness of
health at the earliest level in schools. I give talks on nutrition
and healthy eating to school kids and educate teachers on healthy
eating habits. Soon, we hope to improve the food offered in the
March 2014 Issue of IMpact
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