Highlighting the Heroes: Harvard Medical Grad Up for $25K Award

Our H.E.R.O. Award -Honoring Excellent Resident Observations – was launched to highlight the personal sacrifices and educational commitment during a medical resident’s professional adult life.  We realize, considering the fast moving changes in healthcare,  how courageous medical residents are to embark upon a career in medicine with such an uncertain future.  This award is our way of recognizing that courage.

We wanted to take a moment to introduce you to our nominees individually:

medical residency award

Meera Kotagal

University of Washington, General Surgery – Seattle, WA
Meera took an extra year in medical school and spent that year volunteering with Partners In Health in rural Rwanda. She states,
“I had the tremendous opportunity to work alongside nurses providing care at a health center for 20,000 people in the Eastern Province of Rwanda. I learned from them, and from our patients. I had always thought I wanted to pursue a career in global health, but this year confirmed for me how much I love this work. I love the patients, the challenges, and the joys of small successes. I was tremendously lucky that Harvard let me take a year to pursue my dream job.”
Dr. Kotagal knew that she wanted to pursue an academic career in global surgery – eventually helping to develop infrastructure, build capacity, and provide surgical care in resource-limited settings. She also wanted to be well-trained in a broad set of general surgical skills. Dr. Kotagal says,
“The University of Washington provides exceptional training — both in clinical care and technical skills. This training will allow me to be comfortable taking care of patients in a setting where I may be the only surgeon for miles, without a senior partner to call on for advice. This broad-based training and the opportunity to pursue research in global surgery as part of the Global Health in Academic Surgery Fellowship Track made the University of Washington “the right fit” for me.”
It was always clear that Meera wanted to build a career in medicine so that she could spend her life serving those less fortunate than herself; not only are is this what Meera says, it is evidenced by her years of actions in this regard prior to attending to the University of Washington. She is someone who ‘walks her talk’ and had done so for a long time. Meera says
“Providing health care in settings where people often don’t have access to quality services — and working with the providers there to build local capacity and infrastructure — is my passion. I am not sure if I can point to one single incident that made me want to pursue a career in medicine — but I think spending time in resource-limited settings and seeing people die for lack of access to care continues to drive and inspire me. Just recently, on this trip to Rwanda, I met a 7 month old little boy. He is an orphan, and is being taken care of by another person from his village in rural northwestern Rwanda. For about a month, he had some swelling of his neck, and over the past week he developed some trouble breathing. His breathing finally go so bad that his caregiver brought him to the hospital in Kigali for care. The provider who saw him wanted to get a CT scan of his neck to understand what was happening, but the caregiver couldn’t afford to pay for one. Overnight, while waiting to figure out a solution to figure out how to pay for the necessary tests, the child decompensated. His breathing got progressively worse such that he was barely breathing when I saw him the next morning. By some miracle — and a lot of hard work from individual providers — we were able to get him intubated and into an OR to drain the retropharyngeal abscess he had that had rapidly progressed overnight. He was lucky, and so were we. Many children aren’t so lucky — and trying to make sure that other children get the care they need is what I want to spend my career working on.”
Dr. Kotagal was fortunate to be raised with a strongly supportive network of family and friends. She says
“This is a tough one for me. I am not sure I have really had to make many sacrifices in my career to get an MD. I was lucky to be well-supported by family and friends, and really, going to medical school was a dream for me. The only thing that ever feels like a sacrifice for me is that by pursuing surgical training that is long, I am further away from the work I really want to be doing (global surgery). I know that that is key for me to have the skills I need to be useful in resource-limited settings, but not being able to be in Rwanda, or Haiti, helping to provide care sometimes feels like a sacrifice. But that’s not really about a sacrifice to get my degree.”
Meera Kotagal lives every day of her life as a personal sacrifice by extending herself to give to others. Extra kindness to a patient or thinking of ways to make the world a better place in countless ways is built into her genome. She is tireless and relentless in her pursuit to give and improve her world. Vote for Meera here. If you know a resident that deserves to be recognized, please nominate your candidate here.