AMWA Initiatives — Diversity Dialogues
Diversity Dialogues: Dr. Anitha Rao
Anitha Rao M.D., M.A
CEO and Founder Neurocern Inc
Graduate School: Case Western Reserve University, Department of Anthropology, Cleveland, Ohio
Medical School: University of Toledo College of Medicine, Toledo, Ohio
Residency Program: Case Western Reserve University Department of Neurology, Cleveland, Ohio
Fellowship Program University of California San Francisco, Memory and Aging Center, Department of Neurology, San Francisco, California
Fun Fact: Ashtanga yogi that enjoys sci-fi movies and creative writing
Neelum T. Aggarwal, MD
Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer
Merry Jean Losso, M3
National Medical Student Chair, Diversity and Inclusion Committee
Neurocern is a web-based software system that helps healthcare stakeholders improve the health and long-term care outcomes of Alzheimer’s and dementia by engaging patients with real-time assessments and customized care plans.
MJL: What did you find most exciting about your medical education? What did you find most challenging?
AR: It is the most exciting time to be a physician today as our industry is going through a technological revolution. Twenty years ago, treating a stroke patient 100 miles away with a robotic telemedicine platform may have seemed futuristic, but advances such as telemedicine have allowed physicians to increase their impact on patient care. We now have the ability to adopt new tech that allow us to reach more patients and improve health outcomes.
Traditional medical education systems have been slow to integrate and introduce new career path options to medical students. This past year, it was exciting to hear that some medical schools are looking to the future and have begun offering dual bioengineering and medical school programs to support physician innovators.
MJL: What drew you to choosing your specialty in neurology?
AR: I’ve always recognized that creativity is one of my strengths and neurology gave me the freedom to be a creative physician for my patients. Whether it was finding new models of care for stroke, or using technology to help caregivers, neurology provided the perfect blend of imagination and science.
After medical school, I was drawn to pursue a career outside of traditional medicine, and knew one day I’d like to work on large public health issues. During fourth year of medical school, I applied to a Master’s programs in Medical Anthropology focusing on cross-cultural aging and dementia. It was during that time I learned how macroeconomic trends influenced access to healthcare. Alzheimer’s and dementia topped every public health study as the number one cause of disability worldwide.
With the public health statistics in mind, I knew I wanted to specialize in a field that would impact millions around the world.
MJL: How did you balance medical school wellness?
AR: I prioritized my physical and mental health during medical school. Spending at least 30 minutes a day exercising helped me stay focused on the task at hand. As clinical rotations began, dealing with day-to-day physician workflow took a toll on my overall stress level and I found that through yoga and meditation, I was able to re- center myself and find my personal drive and mission. In addition to self-care, I also focused on cultivating relationships outside of medicine, and I began to grow a social network of other creative minded thinkers.
MJL: What aspects of residencies training programs should medical students consider that may go overlooked?
AR: Schedule office hours with staff to learn about their career journey, passion projects, and situations they struggled in. As a resident, you feel vulnerable entering into the job market but gaining the trust and friendship of your professors is extremely helpful. Having cheerleaders on your sidelines can help you grow in new directions. I continue to maintain collegial relationships with my prior professors and meet with them during our annual neurology conferences.
NTA: What different skill sets did you use in your transition from traditional medicine to entrepreneur?
AR: As an entrepreneur one has to accept uncertainty. For physicians, one’s career trajectory to ‘success’ is determined essentially the day you are accepted into medical school. A clear roadmap unfolds starting from medical school to accepting one’s first job as a junior attending. As an entrepreneur, uncertainty in one’s future is the reality of everyday. Keeping your head above the clouds and seeing the big picture was a new skill set I had to quickly learn.
MJL: What do you see as the role of technology in healthcare?
AR: Whether physicians accept it not, technology is here to stay. New regulations and mandates from Medicare and other insurance companies will continue to ask physicians for additional documentation or outcomes for healthcare services. As physicians, it’s important to stay ahead of the curve and ‘lean-in’ into technology. Without us, technology vendors will continue to develop products for us, but without our unique workflow in mind.
MJL: What were your goals for developing the program and how have they changed over time?
AR: The mission for Neurocern has always been to support family caregivers to improve the outcomes for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. It has grown over time to support not just families, but the larger ecosystem that cares for dementia patients. It has been truly a journey to understand how hospitals, insurance, and other key stakeholders operate in the business world.
NTA: How has being a woman in the biotechnology sector navigated your experience?
AR: Finding female mentors was very challenging for me initially. I’ve found that growing my network through programs focused on women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math/medicine) has made all the difference. Many of my trusted mentors now are high profile women who were introduced to me through STEM programs. I’d encourage other young women to seek out networks of women within their specialty or through AMWA.
Dr. Rao will be featured as an expert on dementia in a 3-part series called The Age Wave on PBS.
Stay tuned for our next Diversity Dialogues!
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