Doctor by choice, entrepreneur by chance — Ronak Mehta, MD, found an innovative way to showcase body organs that turns the unknown into lovable plush creatures. The Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM) grad practically became an overnight phenomenon with her Nerdbugs business and its catchy slogan — Spread kindness. Stay nerdy. And while notoriety has been a pleasant surprise, Mehta is ready to catapult her neuron and breast plushies to a new level — busting through mental health stigmas and ridding the shame and sexualization of moms who breastfeed.
“Many people don’t know how to navigate through mental health issues in an appropriate way. The neuron or brain plushies can be used as a tool to talk about anxiety, depression, bipolar and schizophrenia — to explain that these are neuro-chemical imbalances, not something wrong with you,” said the family physician and faculty member at University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “And the breast plushie can be used to promote breast feeding and stop the controversy over it being inappropriate. It should be allowed anywhere — the female body was created to provide for babies, not just to be sexualized.”
Mehta began pondering her online stuffed animal business 10 years ago, when she realized she needed to balance her fulfilling medical career with a creative outlet. She first dabbled into the magic of the written word during her fourth year at RUSM, authoring a children’s book — The Extraordinary Expedition Into the Human Body —that resembled a Dr. Seuss whimsical style. Though it didn’t take off as hoped, she never gave up the ultimate dream.
Last summer, without formal training, she slowly began teaching herself new skills and finding an innovative team of doers to support her Nerdbugs endeavor. She’s now beginning to partner with a variety of organizations — charities, nonprofit organizations, hospitals and schools — to broadcast her message. Her lung plush recently debuted on the American Lung Association’s social media pages, and Mehta hopes to foster similar business relationships with organizations that focus on diabetes, kidneys and heart health. “We’d like to create awareness and normalization of different medical conditions in a lighthearted way.”
Mehta’s also considering matching charitable options in which every purchase equals a matching toy sent to a child at a hospital. An animated mini-series could come to fruition as well, perhaps as a YouTube video, along with coloring books and other children-centric ideas.
“Your medical education can be used as a platform for many things — running your own clinic, leading a hospital or creating something that’s completely different like Nerdbugs. Your education gives you a lot of credibility. I was able to combine my passion for medicine and love of plush toys to educate kids and adults about science, medicine and the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.”
Each plushie sports a cute name and pun such as the kidney plush, ‘urine for a treat!’. Mehta said her product has been gifted to patients awaiting surgery, recuperating from an illness or just a fun reminder of our insides. She was one of six finalists for Amazon’s Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year Award and has been spotlighted across several media outlets.
Born in India and growing up in the Midwest, Mehta always had an inkling she’d be a doctor. As a teen, she watched her dad in the intensive care unit, recovering from a gunshot wound in a robbery-gone-bad. “I saw the good side of medicine and helping people, but I also saw the tough side of dealing with someone’s family and knowing the patient might not make it. I didn’t know if I could handle the gravity of that level of responsibility.” After a few years of contemplating, she decided she could make a meaningful difference. “It’s moments where you are able to impact someone’s life that is the most rewarding.”
MERP — A Positive Beginning
Mehta’s journey into RUSM is a familiar one — she was waitlisted at US schools and wasn’t confident about her test scores. She applied to RUSM and was rerouted into the school’s Medical Education Readiness Program (MERP), a one-semester prep course. She took the news in stride, thankful for the opportunity. “It ended up being the best decision because it prepared me for medical school — allowing me to dip my toes into beforehand. The friends I made through MERP are still some of my closest.”
After landing a residency in family medicine at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago, Mehta headed east for her integrative medicine fellowship, where she met a neurologist whom she married last year. The newlyweds enjoy cooking, the outdoors and traveling, in addition to practicing medicine.
As Mehta continues to advance in medicine as well as entrepreneurship, she now enjoys reading and posting real-life stories about how her products have positively impacted people globally. “It’s amazing to be part of someone else’s journey in such a small way. This business has allowed me to have another stream of income but also an important avenue to focus my creativity and personal growth.
“You can’t be an effective physician unless you’re fulfilled in what you’re doing. One of the biggest issues in medicine is physician burnout. Find something that nourishes you and stay honed in on that. We need to break the culture and have coping mechanisms for people under large amounts of stress — whether it’s photography, creative writing or playing the piano — find something sustainable that’s also best for your long-term health.”
RUSM Urges You to Prioritize Self-Care
Learn about RUSM’s Mind-Body Medicine program to discover the importance of mindful self-awareness. And join our new Creative Journal project — the care of humanity is a dynamic pursuit that requires our dedication and creativity. Is it any wonder that creativity spills over into other interests? Do you write, draw, create pottery or partake in other artistry as an expressive outlet? These expressions represent our unique community, and RUSM Provost Dr. James Record invites you to share your passion as we develop our new creative journal.