Dr. Rajnish Mehrotra, Professor of Medicine and Section Head of Nephrology at Harborview Medical Center, tells us about where he is from and where he is going, i.e. traveling!
It is interesting to hear how our faculty got their start in medicine. How did you decide on a medical career?
Well, the trajectory for my professional life is a little convoluted. It’s different than most, to say the least.
I grew up in India, and I was 17 years old when I entered medical school! It is a very different system there. There is no requirement for undergraduate schooling. You just go straight into medical school, and then do your residency. You are young when first going in.
My father was a physician, he was an internist. However, I did not want to do what my father did, as I had my own rebellions growing up! But, I ended up going to medical school. I then said I was not going to be an internist, and yet I ended up doing internal medicine! So, every step of the way I did not want to be doing what my father did, but I ended up kind of the same! (laughs)
If you ask the question, "Did you have a job growing up?", of course not! My job was to study, to get into medical school. That’s the only way you would get in. There was no time for conflicts, there just was no time. Otherwise you would not be a physician.
After medical school and residency in India, I came to do my fellowship training in nephrology in the United States. I decided at that time that I wanted to pursue an academic career in nephrology here in the U.S. This required that I go back to residency and do 2 more years! So, I went backwards by doing another residency after my fellowship! But, because I didn’t have the four years of undergrad schooling, like people do here in the United States, I was likely the same age when I finished as people who had gone through the U.S. system.
It really was a convoluted path! But here I am!
What drew you to nephrology over other specialties?
Well, I was in India when I was making the decision to go into nephrology. During my residency there, the very first rotation was in nephrology. I just found it very gratifying! I love what I do and I’ve never really considered what I would do if I did something else instead of this. It just has never seriously crossed my mind, and I don’t pine for an alternative career or profession.
I remember people would come in from the villages bringing people who were in coma because of kidney failure. We would dialyze them and they would wake up! They’d wake up and talk to you! You don’t see that anymore because now dialysis is so readily available. But I have actually seen people waking up from coma just with dialysis. Seeing this was just amazing. It was also very unfortunate however, because a lot of these people could not afford to remain on dialysis and they would go home to die. They would wake up with dialysis, and then go home to die.
In those days, it was clear that in India there was a real need for nephrologists. Even today there is a need. In India, a country of 1.2 billion people there are only about 1000 nephrologists. Even now, there is such a great need, for the community there, for the people.
Do you miss living in India?
Yes and no; Yes and no. I do have nostalgia for that time growing up, but not for how it is now. I’ve changed, and things have changed there.
I still have deep connections with the people who I grew up with. The bonds are really deep, even today. I don’t think I’ve had such deep connections with people as I've had with the people I grew up with. That’s the part I value and cherish. I am still in touch with a lot of these people.
I do love Indian food, and Seattle really doesn’t have good Indian/Fusion food. There is good Indian food in Vancouver, B.C., or the UK. The quality of Indian food is so much better in those cities. Of course, if you actually go to India you get the best Indian food! But you still have to know where to go!
Any hobbies outside of work?
We travel quite a bit. I absolutely love to travel! So travel is one of my hobbies. Also, politics; I am a political junkie. I know many details about politics! It is really crazy now, but it is something I am very interested in. Another hobby of mine is reading books. I love to read, and have since I was a kid.
I grew up reading a lot of mystery novels, but also I read books like the Exodus, which was my first introduction to the horrors of the Holocaust – we did not learn that in school in India!
While I still read and enjoy a lot of genres, for the past decade History has become my favorite genre. I have read biographies of several US presidents starting with Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, books on the American Revolution, the Civil War, the First World War, and India’s independence.
A recent book I have read and that I recommend to anyone is “The Boys in the Boat”. It is a real-life story of scrappy kids from the Seattle area who by sheer grit and determination went on to win the Olympic gold at Berlin in 1936. Apparently Hitler was quite disappointed with their win.
I wish I had more time to read but I don’t. Whenever I get a break I like to pick up a book to read.
Where would you like to travel to next?
I’ve checked off some boxes already. I’ve been to a lot of places, I think 30 countries! On my list now is New Zealand. I’ve heard it is just amazingly beautiful!
Also, Fiji and Sweden are on my list. I’d like to go to Stockholm, which I’ve heard is very interesting. And Germany and Japan, two major countries! Brazil, I’ve never been to Brazil and I’d like to see the Iguazu Falls, the waterfalls are the largest in the world.
Another place I’d like to go is off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, where Darwin came up with the Theory of Evolution. The stories I’ve heard from people I know who have been there are amazing.
These are just a few of the places I’d like to go to that I have not yet been. There are many places in the world and a lot of things to see! I hope to travel for a long time.
It sounds like travel is something you can’t live without. Is there anything else you can’t live without?
I am a family person. Family is what drives me. Once you have a family, I think it would be very hard to imagine living without. Of course, it is not for everyone, but that is it for me.