When Rajam Ramamurthy, MD, started her residency in 1967 at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, she felt lost. The hospital had no programs to help international medical graduates (IMGs) like her get acquainted with their work or cope with culture shock.
“Even simple things [were a problem], like the door [on a hospital room] would lock when you pull it shut,” she said. “It was not something that we had in India. We’d have to lock it with a key, and the first time that happened to me, I was so distraught I didn’t know what to do.”
Dr. Ramamurthy, a neonatal-perinatal specialist and pediatrician, was determined to help other beginning physicians avoid feeling locked out. So she began mentoring medical students and IMG residents, and has done so every year since becoming a resident. She moved to San Antonio in 1977 and worked as a professor at UT Health San Antonio before retiring there in 2014.
When the Texas Medical Association founded its Diversity in Medicine Scholarship Program in 1998 to diversify the physician workforce, Dr. Ramamurthy became both a contributor and a mentor to students who receive the scholarships.
“When you’re mentoring students, one of the things that you want them to understand is that you’re somebody they can talk to who is not only there as a teacher, but as a friend,” she said.
Other top donors to the Diversity in Medicine Scholarship serve voluntarily as mentors to student awardees. TMA encourages those arrangements because they can benefit both parties, says Lisa Stark Walsh. She is executive director of the TMA Foundation, which funds the Diversity in Medicine Scholarships. (See “TMA Diversity in Medicine Scholarship,” page 37.)
Over the years, Dr. Ramamurthy has coached students who’ve struggled with both academic and personal problems. One medical student she mentored through UT Health San Antonio many years ago was brilliant at his studies but had a much harder time communicating with patients and families.
“More than 50% of medicine is how you relate to people, and that’s where many students make the wrong choice in choosing medicine,” she said. “This student really fell apart when it came to the third year, because that’s where he had to talk to patients.”
However, most students simply need help through the normal stresses and strains of medical school, Dr. Ramamurthy says.
Her most recent mentee in the Diversity in Medicine Scholarship Program, Peris June Nganga, MD, graduated from UT Health San Antonio this year and has begun her pediatrics residency in Austin. Dr. Nganga, who moved to Dallas at age 12 after growing up in Kenya, arrived at medical school with a strong network of family and friends for support, Dr. Ramamurthy says. But even well-supported students need someone to guide them through the world of medicine.
Dr. Nganga, who won a TMA Diversity in Medicine Scholarship in 2014, met with Dr. Ramamurthy about twice a year over lunch to discuss different course options and expected obstacles in the years to come. As an aspiring first-generation American physician, Dr. Nganga says it was good to know she could turn to someone knowledgeable.
“She made it clear that she was available whenever I needed her,” Dr. Nganga said. “I always knew [that] in the back of my head.”
Dr. Ramamurthy also reaped an unexpected reward from their relationship.
It turned out that Dr. Nganga had the perfect background to carry out an important medical task for her mentor. Before their relationship began, Dr. Ramamurthy had visited Kenya and promised to send some neonatal resuscitation devices for physicians and medical students to East Africa’s biggest maternity hospital in Nairobi.
“When we met and I told her I was from Kenya, [Dr. Ramamurthy] said, ‘I have these items that need to go to [the Kenyan hospital], would it be possible for you to take them back?’ And I said I’d love to,” Dr. Nganga said. “So she connected me with one of the doctors in Kenya, and I was able to go and deliver the equipment and taught them neonatal resuscitation.”
Dr. Ramamurthy just finished nine years on the TMA Foundation board, but she plans to continue mentoring Diversity in Medicine Scholarship students.
“I know the TMA Foundation does many things, filling many needs, but the Diversity in Medicine Scholarship fulfills a very basic need – the funds to support medical education that is expensive,” she said. “That’s is what attracted me, and I plan to continue to support [it].”
TMA Diversity in Medicine Scholarship
The Texas Medical Association’s Diversity in Medicine Scholarship Program is about more than just helping aspiring physicians afford medical school. The program also matches volunteer physician mentors looking to guide these students through the stresses of medical school.
In 1998, TMA created the Diversity in Medicine Scholarship Program to help diversify the physician workforce to meet the health care needs of Texans, and to encourage minority students to attend medical school. Every year, physicians select one incoming student at each Texas medical school based on his or her academic achievement, commitment to community service, and desire to care for Texas’ increasingly diverse population.
TMA has awarded 148 scholarships totaling $967,500 since the program’s inception. Recipients are known as “Bayardo Scholars” in recognition of the majority support provided by the TMA Foundation (TMAF) Trust Fund of Roberto J. Bayardo, MD, and the late Agniela (Annie) M. Bayardo of Houston. Gifts from the TMAF Patrick Y. Leung Diversity in Medicine Scholarship Endowment, TMAF donor physicians and their families, H-E-B, and TMA county medical societies also support the scholarships.
Physicians looking to become a top donor to the Diversity in Medicine Scholarship Program and match as a mentor with a medical student can contact TMAF Executive Director Lisa Stark Walsh at Lisa.Walsh@texmed.org.
Visit www.texmed.org/2019MSPwinners to see this year’s scholarship recipients. Find more information on how to apply at tma.tips/TMAScholarships2019.
Tex Med. 2019;115(9):36-37
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