May 19, 2001
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The Doctor of Good Ideas

Sonia Chopra

Jaya Agrawal believes there are two kinds of doctors. "There are some who are just naturally doctors, which means they are at their best when they practising medicine. And then there are those doctors who have great talents and are full of ideas.

"I belong in the second category. And I am struggling to find my 'niche' in medicine," says the new president of the American Medical Students Association.

So far, the 24-year-old graduate from Brown University, Rhode Island, has been proving herself right, because she has plenty of ideas.

For the last three years, Jaya has created annual projects that support the cause of providing health care to those who have little or no access to it.

She created a resource book, which listed social services available to the Rhode Island community. She held a free medical clinic for the Latino population. Last year, she organized a Women in Medicine Day in Washington, DC, where 100 women got together and lobbied for insurance plans to cover abortion and birth-control options.

And she has a game plan for her future. During her one-year term at AMSA, she will also earn a master's degree in public health from Harvard School of Public Health and decide where she will do her residency.

If Jaya had a choice, she would work for something similar to a national organization like Planned Parenthood. "Because they offer advocacy, services and health care to the population they focus on."

After being involved with ASMA for four years as a volunteer and board member, she has realized the reality of medicine differs from the theories.

"Medical school doesn't always train you to do what you are passionate about; the real lessons are learnt outside," she says.

The problem of the uninsured -- 44 million -- troubles her. "We don't care for our most vulnerable ones. My goal is to increase access for them by providing them with social-service support or even by organizing medical students by states to deal with the local issues."

Born in Michigan, Jaya moved to Wayne County, Indiana, when she was 11. "Being in Indiana had a huge impact on me deciding to be a doctor, because the town where I lived has one of the largest numbers of teen pregnancies," she says.

The other strong influence: her parents Bharat, an oncologist, and Sudha, who worked in real estate while caring for her children. Besides Jaya, there's Ravi, 22, who will graduate from Brown University with a medical degree, and Asha, 19, who has just been accepted into Northwestern University.

"They have been great role models. They left their country and have not only adopted another, but have given back a lot to it. They have courage and values and it has taught me how important it is to give something as well," says Jaya.

And if she could give advice to those considering the medical profession, it would be simple: "Go into medicine with an open mind. Don't limit yourself, there are opportunities everywhere and you can make a major difference, believe that."

Based in Reston, Virginia, AMSA was established 51 years ago. It is the country's largest independent association of physicians-in-training in the United States.

The student-governed organization is committed to representing the concerns of physicians-in-training and has a membership of 35,000 medical and pre-medical students, interns and residents across the country.

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