Fulbright Scholar Hopes India Trip Makes Her a Better Doctor

By Fowler, Sarah | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), July 26, 2003 | Go to article overview
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Fulbright Scholar Hopes India Trip Makes Her a Better Doctor


Fowler, Sarah, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Sarah Fowler Daily Herald Staff Writer

Anagha Loharikar is just a couple of years away from becoming a doctor, but she doesn't plan to go back to medical school this fall.

Instead, the 23-year-old will move next month from her home in Naperville to a rural region of northern India.

The 1997 graduate of Naperville Central High School is a medical student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is gearing up for 10 months of study and humanitarian work as part of a Fulbright research fellowship in medical anthropology.

From August through June, Loharikar will live at a Hindu spiritual center affiliated with the Chinmaya Mission in Hinsdale and work with a women's empowerment program.

"I'm hoping to really meet the women and the people of the community and the village and get started on my individual research," she said.

Loharikar's day-to-day duties will include compiling medical case histories of local families and teaching classes on nutrition, reproductive health and other topics helpful to women.

She says she hopes to learn more about connections between India's culture, religion and history and native perceptions of health and disease.

In a region plagued by insufficient food supplies, poor nutrition, alcoholism and domestic violence, part of the program's mission is to teach women basic financial management so they can care for their families even if their husbands won't.

"The men aren't going to come and sit in a group about domestic violence," Loharikar said. "That's a taboo subject, but everyone knows it happens."

She says the classes will give her an opportunity to interact with women and their families.

"That's how I want to get immersed in the community," Loharikar said. "A community is not going to just accept me. I have to get involved in their community."

Going beyond

Sparked by an interest in alternative medicine and a desire to get involved in the women's program, Loharikar decided she wanted to spend a year learning "all the things that I haven't been taught in medical school here, the things that go beyond (medicine) to holistic health and holistic healing."

A friend encouraged her to apply to the Fulbright program, but getting some of her friends and colleagues to understand her decision to suspend her formal medical training wasn't easy.

"I got a lot of criticism for going when I had the idea that I wanted to go," she said. "People said, 'Well, why don't you wait until you're done with medical school?' "

But Loharikar says she believed taking time to study Hindu spirituality and learn about ancient Indian medical practices was important for her career.

Loharikar's boyfriend, Minesh Shah, a fellow medical student, says he thinks her desire to go to India comes from her family's Indian background and her desire to improve people's lives.

"I think it's partly through her own personal experience - through being a woman, obviously, and seeing things through her family and community, and seeing issues that are true here in the United States and also are far more pervasive and difficult in India," he said. "I think her personal experience sort of drives her interests."

A whole new world

A few years ago on a trip to India to visit relatives with her grandfather, Loharikar visited Himachal Pradesh, the area where she will be living.

"The region is very beautiful," she said. "It's rural and it has so much natural beauty."

While she says she's enjoyed her many visits to India's western coastline, she expects her year-long stay will require some adjustments.

Loharikar speaks her parents' native language of Marati fluently, but she'll also have to learn Hindi to communicate with the locals.

The mission is in the rural foothills of the Himalayas, unlike the city where her relatives live, and she'll have to get used to life without washing machines or even heaters.

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