Rajan Gurunathan, MD, was an undergraduate student at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in the early 1990s weighing his career options.
“I went through a lot of permutations, actually,” he says. “Scientist, clinical researcher, doctor, physician/scientist—all of those things entered my mind at some point.”
He applied to dual-track MD and PhD programs, but ultimately decided that interacting with people—patients in particular—was the goal for him. He earned his medical degree from UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Camden, N.J., and completed his internship in the department of medicine at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City, not far from where he grew up as a child in northern New Jersey.
And he never left.
—Anthony Back, MD, professor of medicine, University of Washington, Seattle
Dr. Gurunathan has risen through the ranks at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt, from resident to chief resident to chief of the section of hospital medicine. He is a faculty member for the Clinical Quality Fellowship Program at the Great New York Hospital Association and an assistant clinical professor of medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York.
His long tenure at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt has been “an incredible experience because I really get a sense and feeling of commitment from the community,” he adds. “I’ve seen it grow over time and see how the needs have changed and how the service the hospital has been able to provide has only grown over time.”
After several years of presenting posters at SHM’s annual meetings, Dr. Gurunathan joined Team Hospitalist in April 2012 to become an even more active member of his specialty.
QUESTION: When you started as an intern 15 years ago, did you expect that you’d still be at the same institution?
Answer: No, I wouldn’t have expected that at all. In fact, there was a time where I was briefly considering a general medicine fellowship at Johns Hopkins, and I was prepared to go there. And family circumstances, etc., made me decide not to move on and to make a commitment and join the department as faculty, first as a chief and then as faculty. And I was really lucky to have those opportunities, because while my course didn’t go exactly the way that I’d planned, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Q: When you now deal with the residents and younger staff members, what’s that experience like for you?
A: It’s a really neat experience, and often brings a chuckle to my face when I see that they’re frustrated about the same things, because I can certainly commiserate. But I can really also see the value of what they provide every day, and having been in their shoes, I know a little bit about what they’ve been through and the work that they do. So I have a real appreciation for that.
Q: What brought you to hospital medicine?
A: I’ve always enjoyed the collegiality of a hospital environment in terms of multiple disciplines working together in ways to help care for patients. It’s a paradox in the sense that it’s fascinating to see disease and be able to be impactful in that way, but it’s also unfortunate sometimes to see what people have to go through.
Q: Is there something specific about the setting that’s kept you in the academic world?
A: A lot of things, actually. As I mentioned, hospitals in general should have a collegial nature. Again, it’s a really nice place where people share a unique common goal of banding together and fighting a goal, and academic departments are the same. So it’s being with people with like-minded intellectual interests. And we’re fortunate enough to have a number of strong mentors within the department who have had a lot of clinical training and bring a lot of experience and a wealth of knowledge, and being able to utilize their experience and draw from their experiences only makes people better clinicians. And we’re fortunate enough to have a pretty supportive department in general where there is a lot of collegiality and camaraderie.
Q: As an administrator, what is the value of being an SHM member, to you?
A: I think what I’ve seen administratively is the changing face of healthcare and how hospitals are going to need to continue to transform with time due to things that are both regulatory- and quality-of-care-based, in terms of improving outcomes and keeping people healthy. SHM has really embraced [those changes] and taken them head-on for really important reasons, not only in terms of helping people adapt to the changing landscape, but also training them in the ways that we need to be thinking about problems now and in the future.
Q: You’ve attended multiple annual meetings and presented posters. What value have you taken out of them, and would you recommend the experience to others?
A: Absolutely. I think as people develop, it’s good to always learn new skills, and my clinical research is an area that I would actually like to build up. So I’ve had a little bit of exposure, and it’s been nice to be able to draw from the resources of SHM and be able to partake. We presented something last year, which was a really neat experience, and we’re looking to bring some new faculty this year and encourage them to get involved in the scholarship process. These are the kinds of things that can really help hone skills, and that’s a good thing.
Q: Once you’re inside the doors of a New York City hospital, is daily practice much different than anywhere else?
A: I would say yes and no. I would say no in that I think all hospitals are really neat places and really incredible places. I heard somebody say once at a talk that hospitals were places of refuge, and I really do believe that. That being said, I think there is something slightly unique about New York City in a lot of ways. Certainly the challenges that New York City hospitals face are somewhat unique in terms of patient population, difficulty in socioeconomic factors, insurance issues. I think they are really fun places to work, but they’re not for the faint of heart.
Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.