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Breaking Glass

Q&A with Gov. Christie’s physician about being a woman in the medical industry

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Rachana A. Kulkarni — a “Top Doc” cardiologist and Chairman of the Department of Medicine at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Somerset — believes I left one important question out when interviewing her for NJBIZ’s “Breaking Glass” blog:

“What is it like to be the physician to one of the most dynamic politicians in the country?”

Any guesses?

In an article for CNN last year, Kulkarni said that Gov. Chris Christie “has no medical limitations and is fit to serve as the Governor of the state of New Jersey.”

No word on whether Christie is fit (politically speaking) to run as a 2016 presidential candidate — but assuming he keeps up with Kulkarni’s recommendations, he’d be physically prepared to do so.

Perhaps more importantly, though, is Kulkarni’s recognition by the American Heart Association for raising awareness about heart disease in women, her status as one of the Best Doctors for Women in the state, and her honoree appointment at the Executive Women of New Jersey’s Salute to the Policy Makers awards dinner in May.

Please, enjoy this Q&A:

Meg Fry: What is your current job position, and what do you love about it?

Rachana Kulkarni: I’ve been a cardiologist with Medicor Cardiology in Hillsborough and Bridgewater since 1998, and am currently an executive partner in the company. I am also the Chairman of the Department of Medicine at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Somerset.

The feeling that your knowledge can make a real difference in a person’s life is very powerful and gratifying. I love helping others go back to enjoying their lives.

MF: Where have you worked previously?

RK: Prior to (Medicor) I served as the chief of cardiology at RWJUHS — I was the first woman to hold both of these positions.

MF: Where did you receive your education, and what was your focus?

RK: I got my medical degree in India and migrated to the U.S. after my marriage. I completed both my residency in internal medicine and my fellowship in cardiology at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick.

I decided to pursue my interest in non-invasive and nuclear cardiology, and was recruited for my present job during my training. I’ve been with the same practice ever since.

MF: What was the most important thing you learned during your education?

RK: Hard work, honesty and trustworthiness will get you to where you need to be. No matter how tired you are, do your job with a smile!

MF: What were the attitudes toward women in your industry when you first started?

RK: Cardiology was and still is a very male-dominated field … I was the first woman cardiologist in my county when I started, and I quickly realized what a foreign concept that was for patients, staff, and fellow physicians! Patients typically would think I was either a nurse, a social worker or an assistant to the “real cardiologist.” Sometimes I would walk into patients’ rooms with male medical students on rounds and the patients would assume one of them was the doctor.

MF: How has it changed since?

RK: I used to be upset by it at first, but then I started calmly educating patients … I’ve always felt that I am in this profession to heal people, and kindness and compassion are very important to the healing process. Kindness and compassion — along with competence — is the reason why I became successful. I’ve also had to educate my colleagues how not to associate kindness with incompetence and arrogance with competence.

MF: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

RK: My parents told me never to say I can’t do something because I’m a girl.

MF: What advice would you give to young working women?

RK: Since I was a young girl, I always wanted to be in charge — I wanted to be an executive who would bring structure and straighten things out!  So my advice to any women in high-stress, male-dominated fields is that you have to work twice as hard to prove yourself and be noticed — but don’t lose your identity in the process. You can be a kind person with a steel core!

MF: What are some common mistakes that women make in the workplace?

RK: Women have unique qualities and perspectives to bring to the table — but some may lose their identity by acting more like men in order to prove themselves. Women underestimate their abilities — low aim, not failure, is crime! Some women are apologetic for having children and family. They shouldn’t be! Women should always work with their families, not around them — if that means they need more flexibility, they should ask for it and prove that they can be just as productive while meeting their families’ needs. Women need to support their female colleagues. They are not competitors; they are facing the same challenges.

MF: What is the best advice you can give regarding work/life balance?

RK: I got married right after med school to an amazingly supportive husband, who is also a physician. He has helped me through my entire career. We had two kids during my 6 years of training, and they are the joy of our life — my son is now a medical student at Rutgers and my daughter is now a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. We’ve shared our responsibilities at home, and I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have a supportive and understanding spouse.

So ladies — marry wisely and spell out your expectations clearly before making any commitments!

MF: What are your hobbies and interests outside of work?

RK: I love to read, travel, and cook. My favorite authors are Khalid Hossaini, Mitch Alborn, Harold Kushner and Jhumpa Lahiri.

My best times at home are when I am cooking with my family — that is why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday!

And my favorite past time is hiking —I love when I have the time to walk, think, introspect and reflect by a quaint lake. It’s very important that I have some quiet time in today’s world of constant information overload and connectivity!


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