Arundhati Chanda Ghosh: A Senior Surgeon Helping Design Curriculum Reform at Harvard Medical School

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Arundhati Chanda Ghosh

BOSTON—Arundhati Chanda Ghosh is a senior surgeon at the Cambridge Health Alliance and Assistant Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School. Her work involves operating, mentoring trainees, directing a surgical training program and teaching Harvard Medical School students.

At the core of her working life is the performance of a wide variety and large volume of surgical operations: Removal of an infected gallbladder, laparoscopic removal of colon cancer, appendectomy in a pregnant woman, operating on car accident victims with multiple injuries. Her particular expertise lies in surgery of the endocrine glands: for thyroid cancers, removal of thyroid growths causing difficulty with breathing or hormone abnormalities.

“I was a key member in a major curriculum reform effort undertaken by Harvard Medical School in 2005, which resulted in the establishment of a Longitudinal Integrated Curriculum at the Cambridge site,” says Dr Ghosh. “I helped design, develop and implement the surgical component of the program. The surgical component was perhaps the most difficult to mold into the longitudinal model. I helped design several new elements to meet the pedagogic needs of continuity of care, continuity of learning and mentorship.”

The program is internationally respected as one of the first of its kind, serving as a model for other medical universities working to set up longitudinal curricula. One of the most significant innovations was the “Caring for our patients with Cancer” Program in which students follow a patient with newly diagnosed cancer across all disciplines and sites for the entire year. This gives them an un-paralleled view of the disease from the patients’ perspective, an understanding of the patient experience of complex chronic illness, a unique understanding of the way health systems work. Arundhati has served as the Surgical Director for fifteen years and continues to work on curriculum innovation.

Despite a heavy surgical workload and administrative responsibilities, teaching remains a priority for Arundhati. She teaches medical students the art and science of surgery, more importantly, how to become humane caring physicians. She has won several mentoring awards. One of her greatest joys has been to inspire women students to follow her into surgery, traditionally a male dominated field not hospitable to women who want both families and careers. Arundhati brings her passion for mentorship to local area public schools. She organizes clinical observerships and summer internships for undergraduate and pre-medical students.

The performing arts have been central to her life. She volunteers at Banitirtha, a school for Bengali language and culture for children of South Asian heritage. She has been teaching dance and theatre at the school for over a decade.

Arundhati received her MBBS from Calcutta Medical College and completed her surgery training at BIDMC, Harvard. She is a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and Fellow of the American College of Surgeons. Arundhati is a member of the Undergraduate Medical Education Committee at Cambridge Health Alliance, member of the Harvard Medical School Surgery Clerkship Committee, and member of the Harvard Medical School Admissions Committee. At the national level, she is currently serving as a mentor for the Women in Surgery program of the American College of Surgeons. Arundhati is a Harvard Macy Fellow. In 2009, she won the Beth Israel Deaconess Faculty Excellence in Mentoring Award. In 2011, she won the Harvard Medical School Young Mentor Award and this year, 2019, she was nominated for the prestigious Harvard Medical School Clifford Barger Excellence in Mentoring Award.

Here is a Q/A with Dr. Ghosh:

INDIA New England News: Please tell our readers about your work and what you enjoy most about it?

Arundhati Chanda Ghosh:There are two aspects to my professional life – clinical and academic.

My clinical work comprises of a very busy general and endocrine surgery practice. My daily work consists of seeing patients in the outpatient clinic, taking care of inpatients, performing surgeries and supervising residents in training. From the more common gallbladder surgery to complex cancer surgeries; from the minor operation in a well person to the emergency life-saving operation in a sick Intensive Care patient. Thyroid and parathyroid surgeries, with their complex and intricate anatomy, are some of my favorite and frequent cases.  l thoroughly enjoy every aspect of being a doctor, and I absolutely Love operating ! Taking a sick person from start to finish – making the correct diagnosis, doing a high quality operation and then delivering the patient healthy and happy – each time, time after time. I find it meaningful.

My academic work is with Harvard Medical School. I am a surgery preceptor, directly teaching and mentoring many Harvard students. I devote a significant amount of my time and energy to teaching. I absolutely love sharing my knowledge and experience with my students. The knowledge and wisdom extends far beyond the clinical realm, beyond surgical anatomy and operative skills, beyond differential diagnoses and life-saving maneuvers. I strive to be a role model to the students on how to be a skilled and caring professional. My students frequently seek guidance on personal matters and on work-life balance. I have developed lasting relationships with many of my students.  I am also the Surgery Curriculum Director for the Harvard Cambridge Integrated Clerkship, overseeing all administrative aspects of the surgical rotation, including evaluating and grading students. As a part of the thriving academic community at Harvard, I get to work with remarkable people, help shape the curriculum, innovate, address the ever evolving challenge that is medical education.

As a surgeon, I take pride in providing the highest level of care possible to each individual patient. As an educator I feel I have a much larger impact on society by helping future doctors reach the potential. And by serving as a humane, caring role model, I can show students that life as a surgeon can be rich and balanced.

INE: To what charitable, community and professional groups do you belong and why?

ACG: Banitirtha is a not-for-profit association that teaches Bengali language and culture to children of Indian and Bangladeshi heritage in the New England area. The school is held every Sunday. The first hour is dedicated to learning the language, the second hour to learning about the culture. I have been part of Banitirtha for over a decade, helping the children learn about their cultural heritage through oral presentations, show and tell, debate and quiz formats. I also help with the year-end annual play which involves all forty odd students doing one composite production including songs, dances, elaborate costumes and makeup  🙂 Brings a smile just thinking about the atmosphere.

I really enjoy my work at Banitirtha. I love working with the children. Music and art plays an important role in shaping who we are. There is also a very utilitarian side – performing in front of audiences comes in very handy in ones later professional life and I enjoy teaching children these skills. At a very selfish level, this work provides expression for my own creative side.

I work with my local area public schools – field trips for elementary school children, class room talks and demos for middle schoolers. I arrange observerships for high school and undergrad students considering a career in medicine, pre med students trying to better understand the different specialties.  As with all my other educational activities, I thoroughly enjoy working with children/young adults, being part of their journey, perhaps influencing their thoughts and decisions. Medicine is a wonderful profession, children need to be exposed to it early. One of the very first students I had supervised, when he was in high school, is now training to be a Cardiothoracic surgeon.

INE: What are your hobbies and interests?

ACG: I am passionate about dance. Tribal, classical, ballet – you name it. I enjoy listening to a wide range of music, I always dance “inside my head’ as I listen to music. I also like messing around with arts and crafts, digital photo/video editing.

INE: In what way you feel you have most positively influenced or served the local community or your company/organization and professional field?

ACG: My most significant contribution has been my involvement in medical education reform. In 2004 Harvard Medical School piloted the Cambridge Integrated Clerkship, an innovative integrated longitudinal curriculum for 3rd year medical students. I helped design, develop and implement the surgical component of the curriculum, perhaps the hardest to mold into the longitudinal model. The CIC was one of the first of its kind in the country, generating wide interest. Many medical schools in the US and abroad have drawn upon the success of the Integrated Curriculum and created similar models. I have been the Surgery Director for 15 years, I am proud to have been part of this important innovation, in furthering the trajectory of medical education.

My work with the Harvard medical students, that of teaching and mentoring, has been repeatedly rewarded. I have been nominated several times for Harvard Medical School’s Excellence in Teaching Award and have won several Mentoring Awards. My unusual/different background helps inspire students who perceive themselves as minorities. I was recently a guest speaker at the Harvard John Warren Surgical Society, on Diversity and Inclusion. Female students look up to me as a role model. I have inspired several women to pursue surgical careers. One of my very first students is now the Chief of Surgery in her own hospital.

As a surgeon educator, perhaps my most important contribution has been in providing mentorship. Through my different educational endeavors, I help bring alive the scope of this wonderful profession. I help inspire young students to bring forth the best versions of themselves.

INE: What is the most pressing issue that you believe women are facing today?

ACG: Women face many challenges, external and internal. The external challenges are receiving a lot of attention these days. We need to come to terms with the challenges that arise from within, the internal impediments. Women need to internalize and take ownership of their success.

What is your rare talent that people don’t know about?

ACG: I know a heck of a lot about baking 🙂

I could be an excellent assistant (note, emphasis on assistant) pastry chef

INE: What are your favorite books?

ACG: Lately I have been enjoying thrillers by Jo Nesbo (not everybody’s cup of tea, I warn you).  I should re-read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which left quite an impression on my young mind.

INE: What are your favorite quotes that motivate you or make you smile?

ACG: I am a Huge fan of the physician educator Dr William Osler, an icon in the field of medicine. He said many things, back in the early 1900s, about life, learning and medicine, that seem to have been picked out of my own brain. Here are a few of my favorites:

” He who studies medicine without books sails an uncharted sea, but he who studies medicine without patients does not go to sea at all.”

” Listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis”

“The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.”

” Look wise say nothing and grunt, speech was given to conceal thought”

“Soap and water and common sense are the best disinfectants.”

But medicine asides, I totally jive with this line from a song by En Vogue –

“free your mind and the rest will follow”

INE: Who inspires you the most?

ACG: Just do it! is my philosophy in life. The work at hand is what motivates me. What, not who, inspires me. As I often find myself saying – words are cheap, let the action speak your intent.

INE: Who is the one person you would like to meet and why?

ACG: Rabindranath Thakur.

Yes, I know I am a Bengali, but the older I get, the more I realize what a unique soulful gifted and profound being he was.

And could I also please meet Dr William Osler. My philosophical soul mate !

INE: What are your core values that you try to live by?

ACG: Do the very best I can, every single time, no matter how small the task at hand is.

Maintain equanimity, do not get swept up too much by the ups or by the downs,

Be good, be useful, work hard.

Hard work is good for the mind, the body and the spirit.

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