Sowmya Kanikkannan, MD, has been in academic hospital medicine for 13 years and tells the American Medical Women’s Association that she continues to love her work.
Tell us about your professional path
Since early in my career, I have sought to find ways to contribute to making healthcare better. My leadership roles as a hospitalist medical director at Rowan University School of Medicine in Glassboro, New Jersey, and director of comanagement at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, represented great leadership opportunities during which I was able to make a difference in medicine.
At Rowan University, I oversaw a multisite hospitalist program, working closely with the executive board to implement changes in both patient care and operations. In my role at Temple, I liaised between the hospitalist team and the surgical teams, primarily orthopedics and neurosurgery, to improve patient care in our shared services.
Currently, I am a hospitalist and assistant professor of medicine at Albany Medical College and I am also pursuing a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
My decision to pursue a career in medicine began with encouragement from my family. My mother is an internist and has served as my role model since I decided to enter the medical profession. While my father is an engineer, he has always made it clear to me that he believed in the nobility of a career in medicine and has strongly encouraged me to become a physician.
As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of our healthcare system. I have observed these vulnerabilities in my patient population and the inefficiencies in our systems that have complicated our ability to do our jobs well. The pandemic has reinforced my commitment to work harder to find ways to improve healthcare delivery for both our patients and our workforce.
What interests do you pursue outside of medicine?
I am an avid photographer, enjoying it as time allows. I love people and appreciate the simple joys in life—so this is what I try to capture when taking photographs. In particular, I love lifestyle photography— I seek to capture genuine, raw emotions expressed by the people around me.
My commitment to medicine is reflected as an extension of my love for humanity. Similarly, capturing moments of pure happiness reveals the beauty in life, and this too, is a way to celebrate humanity. Certainly, seeing the vulnerabilities in patients who are in the hospital makes me value everything about being alive, and through my photography, I aim to catagoue those intimate moments. To view my photos, I invite you to follow me on Instagram @miakaniphoto.
What challenges have you faced in your medical career?
While there have been many challenges, there are a couple that stand out. One thing I wish I had early in my medical career is mentorship. As a new trainee and attending, I was unaware of the degree of bias that I would encounter as a woman. I believe that I would have benefited from strong mentors to help me navigate the challenges of being a female leader in medicine. Early in my career and even today, I draw inspiration from successful women around me–those who are conquering challenges and succeeding despite roadblocks.
Balancing work and life is another hard challenge because I am in a dual physician couple. My husband is a neurosurgeon with a crazy schedule. We typically take turns focusing on family or career. For instance, as a relatively new attending, my husband has to devote a significant portion of his time building his practice and perfecting his skills. To accommodate this, I took a step back from active leadership. Now, I am putting my focus on getting my MBA and trying to spend more time with family. In this way, we try to give each other the room to grow professionally and to make time for our family.
What advice do you have for women in medicine?
If your experience is anything like mine, during the course of your career, you will be told “no” many times, and likely made to question your own self-worth. Hold on to your confidence and push away any self-doubt about your abilities. Ignore those nay-sayers. It’s okay to Be bold. Be confident. Be authentic. and Be true to yourself.
About Dr. Kanikkannan
Sowmya Kanikkannan, MD, FACP, SFHM, is an assistant professor of medicine at Albany Medical College at Union University in Albany, NY. She has served on national committees for the Society of Hospital Medicine and is on the editorial board of The Hospitalist Magazine. Dr. Kanikkannan has a special interest in healthcare leadership and the impact of business on the practice of medicine. Outside the hospital, she enjoys spending time with her family, writing, photography, and hiking the beautiful mountains of upstate NY. She lives in the city of Albany with her husband and daughter. Twitter handle @skanikkannan. Dr. Kanikkannan received her medical degree from St Georges University.