The IndUS Business Journal spoke to Dr. Sucheta Doshi, who is currently the medical director of occupational health and a women's health staff physician at the VA Boston Healthcare System. She is double board certified in family medicine and general preventive medicine/public health. A graduate of Trinity College Dublin School of Medicine she has an extensive background in global health, vaccination policy and infectious disease prevention. She is a long-standing member of the American Association of Physicians of India Origin and has been a member of the Indian Medical Association of New England since 2004. She became president of IMANE in January 2012. She was born, raised and currently resides in Brookline, Mass.
Tell IndUS Business Journal readers about your role as president of the Indian Medical Association of New England and any plans for your tenure. What have you identified as one of the main challenges facing IMANE and how do you intend to address this as the association’s leader?
I am currently the youngest president of IMANE, as well as the first second-generation president, born and brought up in the United States. It is a tremendous honor and I hope to lead the organization forward this year by strengthening our alliances with other medical organizations, including the Massachusetts Medical Society and reinforcing IMANE’s presence in academia, research and collaborative ventures that form the future of medicine in the United States. We have already held our first big successful event of the year, our 2012 Spring Education meeting on “Health Care Quality Improvement,” which featured speakers such as Dr. Stancel Riley, executive director of the Board of Registration in Medicine, and Dr. Ronald Dunlap, vice president of MMS. The audience was very engaged throughout the program and there has been demand for more continuing medical education programs along a similar theme of health care quality and practice improvement in this era of health care reform. IMANE has always embraced community service to the underserved as part of its mission, as exemplified by the ongoing charity clinics in Waltham and Shrewsbury. I hope to build on this mission through the development of key taskforces to address important public health needs in the Indian Community; we have already formed one such taskforce with the Indian Circle of Caring and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to address awareness, prevention and treatment of tuberculosis within the immigrant Indian community. We will continue to also have many health and wellness fairs in the community, including our annual India Day health fair with the Indian Association of Greater Boston.
The challenge facing IMANE is that as an organization, it is at a crossroads. Founded in 1978, it is the oldest Indian medical organization in the United States, pre-dating the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin. We have many senior physician members and founders who faced different issues than those being faced by the younger generation of physicians today. While the senior physicians were new immigrants from India who faced visa hurdles and struggled to find residency positions in the United States but are now quite well established and choose to socialize more within the Indian community, many of the younger physicians today were raised in the United States, face a different challenge of building a practice in today’s health care reform environment, and are well integrated in the community with a diverse ethnic viewpoint. While building ties with the Indian community was very important for the immigrant generation, building ties with the greater medical community is important for the younger generation. I owe a great deal to the past presidents of IMANE, many of whom have been my mentors throughout my medical education. I think this mentoring relationship is key to bridging the generational divide and encouraging the younger generation to become more active within the organization. Currently all medical organizations face a challenge with dwindling membership and revenue. If IMANE is to survive into the future, academic and professional accomplishments need to be at the forefront to minimize disenchantment by the younger generation of physicians. The IMANE membership is composed of many talented physicians in academia, research, and health-care administration and policy arenas. This talent needs to be harnessed and networking between the generations should be encouraged. I hope to accomplish this through mentorship programs for young physicians and increasing programming this year that promotes IMANE's mission to contribute to the education of medical professionals to advance the profession through physician advocacy and representation within all medical arenas.
How important are professional groups such as IMANE and what impact can your group have in the medical sector, on its own or in conjunction with the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin?
Professional groups such as IMANE are incredibly important to help represent the profession in the greater community and advocate on their member's behalf. Physicians today have to deal with a growing number of changes to the way they practice medicine. However, those in practice do not always receive appropriate education or training on basic principles of quality improvement and risk management. With the advent of Accountable Care Organizations, changes in licensing requirements and ever increasing quality improvement measures to monitor patient safety, IMANE cannot refrain from participating in these changes and acting as a lead advocate on behalf of our members within the medical community. We can do this by providing essential education to our members as well as by strengthening our own alliance with Massachusetts Medical Society. With AAPI, we can also build alliances with organizations such as the American Medical Association. As an organization representing one of the largest groups of physicians in Massachusetts and the United States, IMANE can have a great impact educating Indian physicians on these changes and representing their voice through physician advocacy as health care policy is debated at the State House as well as on Capitol Hill, in conjunction with AAPI.
In the middle of a presidential election, health care and health-related issues always rise to prominence. In your view, what is the most important health-related issue that the presidential candidates should address? Do you feel that any of the candidates have been more effective, so far, at addressing this particular issue or health-related issues in general?
I definitely believe in universal health care and the right for everyone to have their basic health needs covered. I think population health and prevention is one of the most important health-related issues that needs to be addressed during this election. When you look at the leading health indicators in all industrialized countries, the United States falls well below other countries on almost all of them. We need to create a culture of wellness where basic prevention education and screening occurs for all people in this country, specifically diet and exercise for healthy weight maintenance and prevention of chronic disease, immunizations against prevalent vaccine preventable diseases, preventive cancer screenings and education regarding healthy living habits. We have many national taskforces that are established to look at these issues but not many are composed of providers who actually practice direct patient care on a daily basis – this is the one place where I feel the candidates have failed. While President Obama's initiatives, especially the Affordable Care Act, do take population health into consideration and his policies have included public health programs more than others in the past, the benefits of public health and prevention in its entirety should be considered, not just the services that are “proven” by health policy expert opinion versus that of those on the front-lines delivering the care. This is why the recent guideline changes in cervical cancer and breast cancer screening which would limit the screening depending on age are so controversial, for example. We need to look at what can create an overall “healthier population” first. If everyone is able to access a doctor but all preventive needs are not going to be covered or paid for depending on someone's insurance, gender, ethnicity or age, then we're missing the boat on equitable health care delivery. We treat the individual rather than the population at present in the United States. A population health approach is literally the secret for transforming health care in the United States today.
What would you say if one of the presidential candidates asked you specifically what could be done to improve health-care in the United States?
There has been constant discussion during this election about the cost of health care. While we need to decrease costs and increase efficiency, unfortunately, the amount of documentation that a physician needs to complete for each individual patient is extraordinary. With universal health care both in Massachusetts and nationally, there will be an increase in the number of patients that is seen by any individual physician. With increasing paperwork, there is less time spent on each patient which drastically impacts quality of care. One major improvement would be to help reduce paperwork by streamlining documentation requirements for the everyday physician in practice to increase the amount of time that can be spent on direct patient care, thereby delivering quality health care to the most important person in this equation, the patient.
What fuels your passion for medicine and dedication to the field, both through professional efforts and with IMANE?
My passion has always been public health, specifically in developing countries; I went into medicine to be able to provide the best health care and humanitarian assistance to the underserved populations across the world. I am fortunate that I was able to accomplish this through my work with the Centers for Disease Control where as one of their disease detectives, I was able to work on the global polio eradication initiative in Uttar Pradesh in Northern India which was then the hotbed for all polio activity in India, a country that incidentally just celebrated one year of being polio free this January. Global health has always been my passion, specifically in the arena of infectious disease prevention and to have been able to participate in the movement to eradicate the next human disease after smallpox, especially one that impacted India so greatly, is what fuels my dedication for constant improvement in the field of medicine through research, teaching, patient care and administrative medicine. I saw that opportunity for organizational improvement with IMANE and the challenges it faces today. I feel that IMANE has a huge scope to provide quality improvement initiatives, through community outreach on important health topics affecting the Indian community such as tuberculosis and diabetes, through physician advocacy, mentorship for young physicians, and educational activities.
How would you respond if a child or teenager asked you why they should become a doctor when they grow up?
Being a doctor is one of the most rewarding professions that one can belong to; you have the flexibility to address the needs of the community through various sectors. You can find a cure through research for a deadly disease affecting millions, you can inspire a young medical student through teaching to become an accomplished healer, you can touch an individual’s heart through direct patient care, or you can impact populations by developing national or international health policy. The possibilities are endless but the personal satisfaction