Diversity in Medicine: Dr. Srinivasan’s Story

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Arun K. Srinivasan, MD, MRCS Arun K. Srinivasan, MD, MRCS Arun K. Srinivasan, MD, MRCS, is an attending pediatric urologist in the Division of Urology at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He was born in India, where he grew up and finished high school and medical school. He then moved to England to do his training to become a cardiac surgeon, which he pursued for the next six years. He moved to the United States in 2004 and while repeating his surgical residency in the U.S., he became interested in pediatric urology.

Here, he shares how his upbringing in India influenced his career path, and he discusses how racial disparities in medicine can be addressed.

Q: When did you know you wanted to become a doctor?

A: My mom was a doctor in India when I was growing up, and my sister and I used to go with her to work on her call days and stay overnight with her at her hospital. It was a great experience. I saw firsthand how patients were diagnosed and treated. My mom played a huge constructive role in my decision-making process of becoming a doctor. As a boy, my first ambition was to be a fighter pilot, but I did see the fighter pilot in my mom in her work. That inspired me to be a care provider — a surgeon. It was the best decision I made in my life.

Q: What race-related barriers did you face in becoming a doctor?

A: I attended medical school in India which is a pretty homogenous population. I do not believe I had race-related barriers there. However, training in England had race-related challenges at times. I was discouraged to be a heart surgeon due to some of those factors, but the discouragement was not universal. I did get an opportunity eventually to train, work and practice cardiac surgery in England. Do we have barriers? The answer is a yes. Do they have to stop you? The answer probably is no.

Q: Is CHOP a welcoming place for underrepresented minorities? How so?

A: I would say a strong yes, absolutely. How so? Look around us. Look at the Urology family. We have huge diversity in the faculty, huge diversity in our nursing team, and our research team can’t get any more diverse. So, yes, I would say CHOP — and CHOP Urology in particular — are welcoming places for underrepresented minorities.

Q: Why is it important to see more diversity in the ranks of pediatric urology?

A: First, our patients and their parents need to see what they see outside of the hospital, inside the hospital as well. It cannot be monolithic. Second, the lived experience that is brought in from diverse cultures has a huge impact on the decision-making process for care. So, it’s important for the child. It’s important for the parents. It’s important for the families. At the end of the day, it drives quality of care and patient safety and satisfaction.

Q: What can institutions do to make the field of urology more representative and accepting of minorities?

A: The first and most important step is to accept and agree that there is a diversity problem in healthcare. The acknowledgement itself is the first step toward looking at possible reasons why this might have happened, and that opens up the venue of honestly examining solutions and addressing them in a systematic manner. It starts with acknowledgement and agreement.

Q: What is something that many people don't know about pediatric urology?

A: They don’t know how much fun it is. It is a totally fun specialty to be in. It’s a very satisfying and gratifying field of surgery. The child with a smile, and the happy family that you can help — these are all wonderful things. Pediatric urology is probably the only field that one can be a robotic surgeon, a laparoscopist, an endourologist, a microscopic surgeon and an open surgeon. The diversity and challenge of procedures is rewarding and most of it is reconstructing. What more could one ask!

Q: What is exciting in your research right now?

A: I stepped into the world of quality improvement and patient safety. That’s a huge new learning process, and I’m excited about that. We’re also getting new robotic devices coming in on the surgical side, and that’s vastly exciting to me. I’m getting into the surgical education field and trying to see how we can innovate and integrate the field of surgical education with emerging new technology. I’m excited about all of these.

Q: What is your favorite part about practicing medicine?

A: When I drive home from work every day, I think I’m the happiest person. Very few professionals at the end of the day can say: I have made a positive difference in at least a handful of lives today. But that happens every single day of my life in my work. Very few job opportunities or lines of work give you that kind of job satisfaction.

Q: What is your favorite part about working at CHOP?

A: My favorite part about working in CHOP is all about the Urology family. It’s a wonderful team effort that we have here — the camaraderie and respect for each other is just fantastic.

Q: How do we address racial disparities in medicine?

A: Diversity and equity should not be namesake principals that institutions just evoke to have that sense of morally being right. These are real issues. They stop people from pursuing their dreams and they should be addressed in an honest fashion. It cannot be solved by individuals who are affected as it is a reflection of organizational culture, and it is set at the leadership level. Hence, it needs a committed leadership, and it needs to be considered an institutional priority — I am here talking about national specialty associations, healthcare institutions, and universities. But I do see green shoots — reasons for optimism for the future. I do see and witness these discussions happening in earnest in our institutions. I do believe Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and University of Pennsylvania are committed to this, and hence I am optimistic real change will happen. 

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