“By teaching I learn too, since if I am going to impart knowledge to others I must be versed in the field.” This is one of the reasons Sujata Prasad, MD, loves her role as a preceptor for Yale School of Medicine (YSM) MD students and residents.
Prasad began her service as a preceptor in 1990, when she was assistant director of Saint Raphael Hospital’s primary care clinic. Approximately 25 residents and students rotated through the clinic each year, as well its urgent care unit. After five years at St. Raphael’s, she continued precepting over the next decade in the primary care clinic at Saint Francis Hospital.
Currently, Prasad precepts for Yale medical students—and residents of the Yale Primary Care track—in her private office, which is part of the Internal Medicine of Greater New Haven practice. Because of space limitations, she now has one mentee per clinical rotation. Medical students are with her for the six weeks of their primary care rotation, from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm every weekday, except for a half-day on Thursday, when the students have didactic training.
When they begin their rotation, the medical students shadow Prasad all day as she sees patients; when they are ready, the students begin to see patients on their own. (The residents see patients on their own more quickly.) Prasad tries to emulate her mentors, who she explains truly wanted to teach, as well as care for patients. She does this by spending a significant amount of time teaching the students, to ensure they understand concepts and feel positive about what they are doing. For example, after seeing a patient with lupus, she spends time teaching the student about lupus. Prasad inquires about the medical interests of each of her mentees and then tries to enable them to see patients with related issues. She also views teaching as a partnership with her mentees, collaborating with them to review the latest literature on an issue.
Prasad’s mentees benefit from her strong interest in wellness. She chairs the Wellness Committee of the American College of Physicians Connecticut Chapter, a role in which she arranges hikes, meditation, and other events to help physicians balance life and work. Because it is “like being on a treadmill” at work—constantly seeing patients, looking at labs, and responding to calls— she devotes 15-20 minutes at lunchtime each day to meditating, which provides her with critical calm and balance. She encourages her mentees to join her in the meditation, and most do.
To keep up with her learning, Prasad spends the one-half day when students are in their didactics at the YSM Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, reading the latest literature. Beyond appreciating how precepting helps her to continue learning, Prasad enjoys teaching because “it is a way of giving back the education I received. I was the first in my family to enter the medical field and feel so privileged to be able to become a physician.” She adds, “Yale students and residents are among the most intelligent and caring physicians and it is always fun to share.”
On top of being a devoted mentor, Prasad is passionate about giving back to people in India, where she was born. For 10 years, she has traveled there three times a year, working with a non-profit organization delivering health care in underserved communities. Shortly after being there in March 2021, COVID-19 cases skyrocketed in India. She responded by joining the Connecticut Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, on the weekends, doing telehealth visits with COVID-19 patients in remote areas in India, who had little access to health care. The volunteers also raised money to build makeshift ICU beds and buy oxygen concentrators. Prasad lost a close childhood friend, who still lived in India, to COVID-19, adding to the urgency she felt to help in any way she could.
While born in India, Prasad lived in Ireland, Malaysia, and Italy growing up, which led her to highly value cultural diversity. She organizes the American College of Physicians’ CT Diversity Committee’s storytelling hour, through which the voices of physicians and students are heard. Last year’s storytelling hour theme was Value of Diversity.
Prasad feels fortunate to work in Internal Medicine. She describes it as providing the opportunity to encounter all diseases and work them from ground up, while “getting to know patients, their lives, and keeping to vestiges of the old-fashioned doctor—but able to practice at Yale where the latest in technology, education, and treatments is available.” Reflecting on precepting, Prasad states, “I think it’s the best thing for me. I wish more people would do it.”