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From India to Indiana, Poonam Khurana, MD, FAAP shares her experience as a leader on the Asian Pacific American Faculty and Staff Council

portrait of poonam khurana, md

Ever since Poonam Khurana, MD, FAAP, was a child, she knew she wanted to become a physician.

Growing up in the southeastern state of Punjab in India, Khurana’s father was a professor of surgery at one of the main regional referral medical institutions, and she has fond memories of interactions with his patients and peers alike. He often invited physicians, residents, fellows and staff to their home in the city of Patiala. Patients often came to the house bearing gifts of food and produce from their farms to express their gratitude for their recovery from surgery. Seeing how he interacted with his patients, and the way he cared for their needs, inspired Khurana to pursue a career in medicine.

“The physician in that era was second only to God. When I saw their ability and all that they could do to help others, that’s all I ever wanted to do,” said Khurana. “Even though it has been a long rough ride I’ve never regretted embarking on this journey. If I had to do it over again, I would still choose to be a physician.”

One of the biggest challenges Khurana experienced while pursuing her medical career was leaving her 10-year-old son in Patiala while she went to the United States for residency.

“It was a very stressful time for both of us,” expressed Khurana. “When you move from one country to another there are huge sacrifices, even when you are pursuing your dream. All dreams are not that easy to follow when you think of it, but they are still worth pursuing. In the end it has been worthwhile.”

Upon finishing her neonatology fellowship at St. Christopher Hospital for Children through Drexel University in Philadelphia, Khurana joined Indiana University School of Medicine in 2004 as an assistant professor and is currently an associate professor of clinical pediatrics. In addition to this faculty role, Khurana practices as a neonatologist at IU Health Methodist and Eskenazi Health hospitals in the neonatal intensive care nurseries. She is the past president and present Executive Board Officer of the Asian Pacific American Faculty and Staff Council (APAFSC) and the program director for American English for International Professionals, a program which provides assistance with communication training for International professionals.

Having experienced the challenges of moving to a different country, a new culture, and searching for friends and colleagues to connect with, Khurana is passionate about helping her fellow Asian-Pacific American faculty succeed at IU School of Medicine through the APAFSC.

Sydney Rucker, MA, Director of Diversity Initiatives for Faculty Affairs, Professional Development, and Diversity, said she admires Khurana’s leadership and her work to make IU School of Medicine an inclusive environment for all.

“Dr. Khurana has been an incredible advocate for health care access and creating a welcoming environment for our global IU School of Medicine community. Through her efforts in campus leadership with the IUPUI APAFSC, creating a number of transition and language programs that welcome global faculty, researchers, students and their families to the IU School of Medicine community, and her work to bring Asian-Pacific Islander issues to the forefront, she has been a tremendous champion for the IU School of Medicine community.”

members of the Asian Pacific American Faculty and Staff Council

The council is designed to support educational, professional, social and cultural opportunities for faculty and staff members who self-identify as Asian-Americans and/or share the values of Asian-Pacific American heritages.

“What many faculty don’t realize is that they are automatically a member of the council if they are from an Asian background,” explained Khurana. Khurana also voiced that the council is recruiting members to their board. Due to recent retirements and moves by a number of board officers from IU, they currently have four positions open. The board is looking for members who are passionate about providing their fellow international faculty and staff opportunities for a successful medical career at IU School of Medicine.

Besides applying to be a board member, Khurana also encourages APAFSC members to attend their meetings and become actively involved in their programs. One program supported by the APAFSC is teaching international medical professionals how to overcome communication challenges. Khurana has hosted this program since 2008 and hires ESL instructors to specifically help physicians with their speaking skills.

Additional opportunities for members are now available through Zoom. For example, every Tuesday afternoon from 3:30 - 4 pm Khurana hosts a yoga and meditation session using trained yoga instructors. This session includes a combination of stretches and breathing meditation that help faculty relieve both physical and mental stress.

Another board member, Jing Wang, PhD, MA, an associate professor of Chinese language and culture at IUPUI, teaches Chinese exercises and techniques for wellness in 1-hour sessions on Wednesdays at 12:15 pm through Zoom.

“We hope that our faculty and staff feel some relief through these sessions with all that they are challenged with in these turbulent times,” said Khurana.

The spring reception is the major networking event hosted by APAFSC each year. It is a great opportunity for attendees to widen their horizons by meeting colleagues from different cultures, sample food from different countries, listen to variations in music and watch the regional dances.

For those interested in learning more about the APAFSC programs, becoming a board member, or to attend the upcoming council meetings, email the APAFSC board officers. For information about the “Rest and Release” Zoom wellness sessions, send an email to Khurana.

 

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Author

Madison Pershing

Madison Pershing is a Marketing and Communications Assistant for Indiana University School of Medicine’s Faculty Affairs, Professional Development, and Diversity.