I have managed to navigate a different route, and that has brought me great satisfaction and the reward of helping people find a path to healing.... but it has been a route with many twists and turns.
My parents are from India and moved to Chicago in the 60's when the US was recruiting doctors to come fill the gap. Growing up I was awed by the power that my father, who is a surgeon, had over his patients. It was not a wieldy, controlling power, but rather a gentle and kind trust that he created, and when he took me to the hospital to round with him....I could see it and feel it. That seemed like the right kind of job for me. He showed me that being a doctor is not just a profession, it is a calling and a noble one at that. My earliest thoughts of career were rooted in this concept of the great privilege a physician has to be able to explore and repair another human being.
My mother is an amazing cook, and brought many of our family traditions into home life. When I was sick, it was honey, ginger and turmeric that went into my mouth, though begrudgingly. Dinner was a mix of cooked vegetables and curries and onion, and the house smelled of spice and savory when she was in the kitchen. It took me some time to appreciate these things, but they were a part of my life nonetheless, and became a part of the way that I learned how to heal and think about health.
My undergraduate years at Northwestern University were full. I was a pre-med, but majored in English Literature and danced in the dance program. I just didn' t think that spending all of my time learning the sciences like so many of my pre-med colleagues did, made sense. I wanted to learn about all of life, and I wanted to feel joy, which books and dance allowed me to do. So even then, I was not really in the box.
I was fortunate to gain entrance into a great medical school, Rush Medical College in Chicago...and then promptly decided to take a year off. That year was transformative, I travelled in South America, lived on a mango farm, worked with an ethnobotanist and pushed the limits of adventure. My travelling companion, (now my husband), was also headed to medical school and we were certain that this was the best prep we could have before the 4 years of deep commitment. I went on to my homeland of India and worked with an NGO to start a mobile health clinic in a rural area on the east coast of the country. Living on a farm with few diversions in the hot sun of South India, there was just not much to do. I was far from my family, and didn't speak the local language. So I spent much of my time working the land, cooking with several villagers to feed hundreds of people daily. The mobile clinic broke down often, and so I learned as well to do my best with very little, as I would often find myself with many eager villagers waiting to see me, and only a stethoscope and a tattered box of medications. Hand holding, smiling and reassurance were medicines I learned to use often and much.
At Rush Medical College I was in the alternative curriculum, a small group of students chosen to learn medicine from a problem based, patient centered approach. It was fantastic and I loved every minute of that interactive style of learning, very progressive for the 90's! No lectures in big halls, just small group problem solving. During that time, I organized a study tour to India for med students across the country to learn the ancient healing traditions of my homeland. I also worked in small clinics and hospitals in Cuba, Brazil and St Lucia, gleaning whatever indigenous knowledge I could from the healers I worked with there.
I graduated as the president of the honor society and decided that family medicine was where I could best achieve my goals of being a holistic healer who could serve the entire family through the phases of life. I was told by many not to "waste" my talents on primary care, and offered opportunities to train in surgery, ENT and Ob/Gyn. My heart told me then, that despite the lack of glamour, family medicine would be the right place for me. I followed that instinct despite the encouragement of many teachers to choose another way. After my residency training on Chicago's west side, I pursued further fellowship training in Maternal Child Health, and focused my practice on family centered maternity care. Catching babies and taking care of them afterwards was and still is, one of my life's greatest privileges. I worked in a very busy clinic, seeing 30 patients a day and feeling deeply exhausted at the end of it all. It was there however, that my introduction to true wellness came, from the midwives I began to work with. I started to change my world view from one of disease-centered care, to one that focused on the strength and vigor of the human body and its natural ability to heal. You can read more about this in my essay for This I Believe: On Motherhood.
Seeking sunshine and adventure, I moved to Ventura, California with my husband and infant daughter, and embarked on a path that would include more time in the natural world, the introduction to other healers and midwives who held the same values, and much work in the county medical system there. Again my clinic was very busy, part of a large county system. The need was tremendous and I saw many many patients each day, mostly migrant farmworkers with a host of problems that stemmed from a change to a traditional American diet, and poor housing conditions. I became very involved in the issues around safe housing for farmworkers, advocating for the many children I cared for in my clinic with poor sanitation and food quality at home, making house calls. My practice was full, but I no longer felt like I was getting to the root problems of the people I cared for: stress, heavy consumption of processed food,and lack of exercise and joyful movement. I felt woefully undertrained to help in any of those matters by my medical school training. My yoga practice, initiated when I lived in India in college, informed me far better than med school. I knew it was time to move to the next level of knowledge and the next chapter of my life.
My two other precious children were born in California with the help of a midwife and trusted friend. These were times where I was able to receive wisdom and care from my elders, and I could be a "patient" in a system that actually gave me the time and space to ask questions and feel listened to. 2 of my 3 babies were born into water, something that I couldn't do in most hospitals. From these healers I was formulating my own way with patients...I wanted to adopt their model of compassionate knowledgeable care.
Dr Andrew Weil's integrative medicine fellowship was the place where I landed. I was fortunate to be accepted into the program and join with many other physicians who were also seekers of another way. Of the many things we learned, my interest was most ignited by nutrition and botanicals. With the guidance and support of Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, I took these teachings and made them my own.
Soon after we moved our tribe back to where we met, Evanston IL, where we could be close to family again. Armed with these past varied experiences and knowledge sets, I started an integrative practice using food as a primary prevention and treatment strategy. Additionally I still deliver babies, and teach integrative medicine concepts to the U of Chicago med students and residents. My life as a physician feels empowered, alive and authentic to who I am and how I live.
Much of my time goes to raising and nurturing my young family, working in the community with Ellen King, a local chef with whom I partner to create Food as Medicine classes, and working on new projects aimed to further my dream to help people use their food, breath and community to live the life that they want. I believe that life is balance, and each day is an opportunity to make your life your argument, to let your life speak your values!