March 10, 2017
Rutuja Bhalerao, Ross student and recipient of the Community Health Leadership Award
At the time, Rutuja Bhalerao didn’t know that the frequent relocations she had throughout her childhood along with her family would lead to the pursuit of a career in medicine. But looking back, it’s made all the difference.
A 2015 graduate of the University of California-Irvine, Rutuja is a recipient of the Community Health Leadership Award, a Ross scholarship that recognizes students who have made significant contributions to their communities through volunteer work or research. Here, Rutuja talks about why she chose Ross, first impressions and her passion for pediatrics.
What inspired you to pursue your MD?
While growing up, I had the opportunity to live in many different places that helped expose me to different cultures, such as India, Philadelphia, Oklahoma, as well as California. Living in some of the rural communities had provided me with an eye-opening experience as to the need for primary healthcare. While gaining exposure to the medical field during my undergraduate career, my interest in pursuing medicine grew, specifically in pediatrics. In addition, I have always wanted to travel and eventually become involved with Doctors Without Borders. Upon graduation, I hope to pursue that dream so that I am able to do my part in helping many of the underserved communities that I have come across while constantly moving.
Any memorable experiences with pediatrics before medical school?
I served as a board member of an organization called Team Kid Power (KiPOW), which provides early nutritional education in low-income area elementary schools, as a preventative measure against childhood obesity. Each week, I’d go into classrooms and give an interactive lesson on healthy eating and living habits, as well as exercise and eat lunch with them, which helped them learn by example.
My work truly came to fruition when the mother of a student, Mia, thanked me for helping her daughter understand the importance of healthy eating. That was when I realized that I really could make a difference in these children’s lifestyles, and those of their families.
Why did you choose Ross?
My brother is a fourth-year Ross student, and I’d also heard from multiple people about how Ross provides an excellent education and prepares you well for the USMLE®. And the beautiful location of Dominica was a plus!
First impressions of Ross?
My experience has been exceptional so far. Both the faculty and students are eager to make sure that you understand the material. Ross provides you resources that you may need to make sure you’re succeeding and that you’re comfortable while you’re here in Dominica. For example, they have a mentorship program where you are paired with a professor to make sure you’re on track. I’ve also been able to explore the island, from visiting the landmarks and beaches to enjoying local food and tea. I’ve truly received a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
What makes you proud to be a Ross student?
I’m inspired by the fact that students and faculty take the time to go to local clinics to offer health care and look out for their community. As we’re pursuing medical education abroad, we’re provided with new experiences every day, which allow us to grow, learn and adapt in a community that we now call home.
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January 10, 2017
Desiree Eakin, MD, FAAP (Ross Class of 2006)
Desiree Eakin and her now-husband both grew up in southern California. They met and began dating at the University of California-Irvine. When it came time to make postgrad plans, they knew they wanted to spend their lives together and eventually practice medicine in California.
So they went to medical school in… Dominica.
Sound illogical? Far from it. In fact, attending medical school in the Caribbean was a carefully thought-out decision—one she and her husband had planned from the start, says Dr. Eakin, now the owner of Olive Health Pediatrics in Burbank, California.
Although one might have expected the UC grads to apply for medical school in-state and hopefully springboard their careers in California, Dr. Eakin knew the odds were against them—even with her and her husband’s stellar grades. Both were all too aware that talented, qualified applicants are routinely denied admission to U.S. medical schools every year, simply because seats are limited and the demand is sky-high.
“You could be the top of your class, the number one performer, but the chances of us both getting into the same U.S. school were basically none,” says Dr. Eakin. “So we said, why don’t we go to the Caribbean together? We knew as long as we worked hard, we were going to be successful and eventually be able to practice medicine in our home state.”
Why Ross Stood Out
There were three key reasons why Dr. Eakin and her husband chose Ross specifically:
- Academics and facilities
“We were blown away by the anatomy lab,” says Dr. Eakin. “The whole setup was just incredible. You could tell Ross had a strong focus on your academic success with the support in place to help you achieve it.”
- U.S. focus
“All of the rotations were offered at hospitals in the U.S., which we felt was so crucial. We could choose electives at sites with programs in our field of interest and make contacts for future residency positions.”
- Accreditation and approvals
“A lot of Caribbean medical schools weren’t approved in California at the time. Not only were Ross grads approved in California, Ross also had an excellent reputation.”
Finding Her Niche
When they arrived at Ross, they knew they had made the right choice. “The culture was great,” says Dr. Eakin. “It was a big help to have a community of people who want to succeed—and, of course, it was nice having my husband there!”
And despite being located in Dominica, the institution’s U.S. focus was evident in every aspect of their education. “The curriculum mimicked programs in the U.S., the rotations were offered in the U.S., and your academic progress was measured by nationally recognized exams, not just university-specific tests,” Dr. Eakin recalls. “That was so important to us.”
It was during her core rotation in pediatrics at Children’s Hospital of Orange County that Dr. Eakin knew she’d found her specialty. She’d always enjoyed working with kids, but pediatrics came so naturally to her, it felt nearly effortless. People started commenting when they saw how even the most notoriously difficult kids were calmed by her presence. Both her mentor and the head of pediatrics told her she should seriously consider specializing in the field.
“It just felt like home,” says Dr. Eakin. “It was a natural interaction. I thought, maybe this is the right path for me.”
To say it was the right path was an understatement. After completing her pediatrics residency at University of Nevada School of Medicine, Dr. Eakin became the director of hospital medicine at UN, the director of clinical simulation for pediatric residents, and head of the pediatric sub internship for medical students. From there, she accepted a position at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles (CHLA) as a pediatric hospitalist and attending physician for pediatric residents of CHLA and medical students at USC Keck School of Medicine.
Her next move? She was starting a family and needed more flexibility in her schedule, so she decided it was time to do what she’d always dreamed—open her own practice.
Paving the Way Forward
Today, as the owner of Olive Health Pediatrics, Dr. Eakin is a full-time general pediatrician and pediatric hospitalist, and a part-time academic. Recently, she received a "Super Doctors Rising Stars - Southern California" award for 2016, and a Top Doctor award for 2016. Past recognitions include “Best Pediatrician in Burbank 2015,” as well as “Top Doctor” for 2013 and 2014.
Her husband is an internal medicine hospitalist, where he regularly works in critical care and takes care of patients in the ICU. “That’s his passion. He’s a very laid-back person, but he loves the adrenaline rush,” says Dr. Eakin.
Dr. Eakin’s path has undoubtedly been challenging, but well worth it. And she hopes her story can serve as inspiration for future physicians to realize that success is within their reach, too.
“If I would’ve seen somebody in the spotlight, achieving what I wanted to achieve, it would’ve helped me so much,” she says. “I am proof that although it’s not easy to obtain a position in an academic institution in California as an international medical grad, I have been able to knock down those barriers. Just know that anything is truly possible, and you will accomplish what you set out to do.”
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