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The dutiful doctor: Kulkarni talks ACA, women in medicine and her famous patient

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Rachana Kulkarni is one of the top cardiologists in the state.
Rachana Kulkarni is one of the top cardiologists in the state. - ()

Rachana Kulkarni is recognized by her peers, Castle Connolly, New Jersey Monthly, Inside New Jersey and NJ Top Docs as one of the Best Cardiologists and Best Doctors for Women in New Jersey.

But that’s probably not where you know her name from (we’ll get to that in a minute).

As chairman of the Department of Medicine and chief of cardiology at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Somerset, executive partner of Medicor Cardiology in Hillsborough and Bridgewater, and member of the medical staff at Morristown Medical Center, Kulkarni’s built quite a name for herself.

From arriving at Medicor Cardiology in 1998 following her fellowship and residency at UMDNJ-RWJ Medical School in New Brunswick, to being recognized this year for her exemplary leadership by the Executive Women of New Jersey, Kulkarni’s emphasis on preventative and non-invasive cardiology has helped her build a successful and widely publicized career in medicine.

So it’s no wonder why Gov. Chris Christie came to her with his health concerns — Kulkarni simply knows best.

NJBIZ: As a top doctor in New Jersey, do you have any predictions for the health care industry next year?

Rachana Kulkarni: Over the last five years, the whole health care industry has been shifting, changing and recalibrating. … In 2015, we are going to see some challenges and changes. In a nutshell, I think the days of solo practitioners are going to be limited. Most New Jersey hospital markets are going to consolidate, and within a year or two we will see most physicians being employed by or aligned with one hospital system or another.

NJBIZ: Is this a result of the Affordable Care Act?

RK: It’s very difficult for a single physician to comply with the demands and paperwork that the Affordable Care Act and electronic medical records present because the costs of practice for physicians have gone up so much. … America did very well with solo practitioners, people who took pride in their entrepreneurship and devoted their lives to taking care of patients, and now we are moving from invested, single physicians to systems. … It’s sad that most doctors have to devote more time to paperwork and less toward patient care, in my opinion, and I don’t think that’s what the American people want. … I like to spend time with my patients. I want to be able to look them in the eye and say, ‘We need to do this and if we don’t, this is what will happen.’ Education is a very important part of treatment. … Fortunately, I’m part of a big practice with enough resources, so I hired more staff to help me with the time restriction that EMRs put on my time with patients — but that’s at a cost. ... That’s why single practitioners are joining hospital systems that can give them that; but then, hospitals demand certain things out of physicians. In my opinion, it’s not a positive change.

NJBIZ: Might the ACA also result in specific sectors of growth? 

RK: The scribe industry is becoming big. A scribe is a person that comes in the room with physicians and jots down what they are saying into the computer, so that physicians can do their work. … They have very little background in health care, but they need to know medical terms. Scribe America, for example, has seen such significant growth in their business. … The IT sector has also seen and will continue to see big growth in health care. Eighty percent of physician practices now have electronic medical records — they need hardware and software in hospitals and offices, and, of course, with that comes maintenance.

NJBIZ: So there have certainly been some negative repercussions, but are there any other positives to the ACA?

RK: The ACA did put emphasis on preventative medicine, so that’s definitely a positive. We need to shift our focus from treating conditions to preventing them. Consider obesity — it has to be addressed in childhood, from what kids get fed in the cafeteria and at home. That’s why I like to devote so much time to raising awareness for heart health in women, because they are the ones who traditionally do more grocery shopping and know what goes into their children’s lunchboxes. I think educating them more about risks and about what they can do will go a long way.

NJBIZ: I read somewhere that, while there are more women in the health care industry, men continue to dominate leadership positions. Is there a way to balance that?

RK: A person starts practicing around the age of 30 — that’s also the age when one might get married and have kids. So between the ages of 30 and 40, when men might want to advance their career, women feel more responsibility for their families. … But what Sheryl Sandburg has said and what I tell my daughter is that, for women, it’s not a corporate ladder. It’s a jungle gym or a maze. You may have to move laterally for a while when starting a family. … I had just finished medical school and was in my residency when I had my son. And my daughter was 3 months old when I started my cardiology fellowship. It was such a struggle. … But just like a man can blossom in his career between 30 and 40, maybe women can do so between 40 and 50. I took on a lot of leadership positions after I turned 40.

NJBIZ: Last question — how often are you asked about being Gov. Christie’s doctor, and how has it affected your practice?

RK: I’ve taken care of Chris Christie for the last few years. … He asked me just last year if I would write a letter about his health so that it could be released — the next day, it was all over every major newspaper. To me, I’m the same physician that I was before, and it’s been an honor and a privilege that he’s trusted me with his health. I’m also glad to have gotten to know Christie as a person. He is very nice, respectful and has a great sense of humor. He is a family man who wants to be around for his children and grandchildren, and is committed to his health. As a patient, he is so compliant and has taken such huge steps to take care of himself. What a big difference over the last few years. … Most executives are looking for preventative cardiology to improve their heart health so that they don’t have to deal with the consequences. Through Christie, we have successfully demonstrated that it can be done.

E-mail to: megf@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @megfry3

Rachana Kulkarni

TITLE: Chairman of the Department of Medicine and chief of cardiology

AFFILIATION: Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset (Somerville)

ONE MORE THING: Kulkarni completed her internal medicine residency program at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School following graduation from Government Medical College in Nagpur, India, where she was a National Merit Scholar. She is also executive partner of Medicor Cardiology in Hillsborough and Bridgewater and member of the medical staff at Morristown Medical Center.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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