What makes a great physician?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I learned of the passing of Dr. Chitra Dinakar, Clinical Professor of Medicine at Stanford University, Clinical Chief of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunodeficiency at Stanford Health Care and member of the Food Equality Initiative (FEI) Medical Advisory Board (MAB). Chitra passed away after a hard-fought battle with multiple myeloma.
I first met Chitra as a young mother seeking care for my food-allergic children. I had recently lost my private insurance and consequently access to all of our family care providers when my husband lost his job. Now navigating Medicaid, I quickly discovered there were only two clinics that accepted my new insurance. After waiting six months for a clinic visit, I had one of the best patient care experiences in my life. I was nervous and ashamed, Chitra responded with kindness, respect, and compassion.
My lived experiences with food insecurity and food allergies led me to my work at FEI. Chitra became one of my biggest champions inside Children’s Mercy and beyond. When I had difficulty reading lab tests brought in by clients before we had a prescription process, Chitra patiently explained the difference between IgG and IgE. She encouraged FEI to start a MAB and became our first member.
It is said that leaders instill in their people a hope for success and a belief in themselves. Positive leaders empower people to accomplish their goals. Chitra definitely did this for me and many others. Through her leadership, I was selected to join the inaugural Food Allergy Patient and Family Advisory Council at Children’s Mercy. Today I Co-Chair this committee and serve on a host of other hospital-based committees. This experience has given me the opportunity to learn quality improvement basics with second-year residents and inform policies that impact over 200,000 children in my community.
Chitra also published FEI’s Food Impact Chart in the 2017 July issue of Current Asthma Allergy Reports, in an article entitled, Patient-Centered Outcomes in Food Allergy, bringing validation to our important work. Anchored by the MAB, Chitra encouraged our efforts to move to a prescription-based model and embrace a public health identity. Even after Chitra left Kansas City to join the practice at Stanford, she maintained her role in the MAB, which demonstrated her commitment to the underserved.
Being a good physician requires intelligence, compassion, and leadership. Chitra certainly had all of these qualities and more. Although Chitra is no longer physically with us, she leaves a legacy of care that will last for generations.