As Subha Raman, MD, MSEE, hiked in The Narrows of Utah’s Zion National Park—the narrowest point of Zion Canyon—she found herself chest-deep in the swirling Virgin River. As the swift current collided with her petite frame, she suddenly lost her footing on the rocky river bottom.
The Narrows is known for its ability to rapidly turn into a torrent of rushing water. Raman couldn’t afford panic. She had to remain focused, to right herself before anyone else’s life was put in danger trying to save hers.
Although there was a brief fear of drowning, she made it out—and even wants to go back someday. Reflecting on the experience later, she sees an application for her work as director of the Cardiovascular Institute at Indiana University School of Medicine.
“When you’re in an environment like that, you have to be fully present in the moment,” Raman said. “You have to be mindful of your footing and think about the people around you and the steps you take. When you start to fall, you have to be calm and think about what you need to do next.”
This describes the kind of leader Raman is—calm under pressure, always mindful of moving forward on the path toward life-saving innovation. She draws inspiration from a Lakota word she learned on another national park adventure: kihelakayo. It means “keep going.”
Raman’s colleagues describe her as a collaborative leader who is not only a nationally recognized expert in the field of cardiovascular imaging but also an innovator who values diverse perspectives as essential to the ultimate goal of preventing heart attacks and saving lives.
“Her efforts form the cornerstone of relentless pursuit of excellence, radical innovations in science and unique training opportunities for the next generation of clinicians and scientists focused on cardiovascular medicine,” said Rohan Dharmakumar, PhD, MSC, executive director of the Krannert Cardiovascular Research Center at IU School of Medicine. “These attributes are reinvigorating the emergence of IU School of Medicine as a leader in cardiovascular medicine in the state, country and beyond.”
Raman’s underlying passion is to reduce mortality from cardiovascular disease—the leading cause of death in Indiana, the United States and the world—with tailored use of innovations that afford more personalized and more effective interventions.
“It’s thinking in terms of how to deliver care in an integrative way, grounded by an understanding of how each person’s heart is connected to everything else in one’s life,” she said. “It’s empowering people to be the champions of their own cardiovascular health.”
Leading the field in heart attack prevention
When Raman was studying electrical engineering as a master’s student at The Ohio State University, she encountered a “far out” concept that she was nearly certain she would never use again.
“It was called artificial intelligence,” she said, now grinning at her naivete.
Today she is leading a revolutionary heart attack prevention program based on advances in cardiovascular imaging coupled with the emerging field of artificial intelligence (AI) in medicine.
“With noninvasive imaging in those who are at risk, we can actually see early plaque buildup in the heart’s arteries and treat it to prevent a heart attack,” Raman said. “It’s something unique that we’re leading at IU School of Medicine. We’re really the first across the country doing something like this, with an initial focus on people with diabetes.”
Raman has recruited top cardiovascular imaging researchers and created a rich environment for advancing noninvasive diagnostics and treatments which will supersede the conventional, decades-old approaches currently used in interventional cardiology, said Dharmakumar.
“She has opened opportunities that are frankly not available in most academic institutions,” he said. “This has allowed the academic enterprise to emerge as a leader in the use of novel imaging strategies to firmly grasp and operationalize robust diagnostic approaches that are yet to be introduced at other leading institutions in the country.”
An inquisitive physician-scientist, Raman understands the importance of building bridges across people, organizational networks and academic societies to form collaborative networks for innovation in cardiac care, Dharmakumar added.
Raman likens it to how magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) forms a clear picture through a magnetic field which aligns the constant rotation of hydrogen atoms spinning in many directions throughout the body.
“We have an opportunity to align our collective clinical, educational, scientific and administrative ‘spins’ so that, together, we are more effective in finding better ways to reduce cardiovascular disease and improve overall health,” she said.
Mentoring the next generation of cardiology researchers
In both engineering and cardiology, Raman has sometimes found herself the only woman at the table—particularly as she advanced to positions of leadership.
“The air gets a little thinner as you rise,” she said. “It has reminded me to be very intentional about mentoring women and connecting them with opportunities that align with their talents and professional aspirations.”
Karolina Zareba, MD, met Raman in 2014 while interviewing for a position with the advanced cardiac imaging team at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, where Raman was on faculty from 2002 to 2019 before coming to IU School of Medicine to lead the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine and the newly formed Cardiovascular Institute. Zareba was immediately impressed by this accomplished clinician-scientist who was also humble and interested in supporting junior faculty. Raman quickly became a key mentor.
“She has this amazing ability to really listen to you and make you realize that you and your ideas are important,” Zareba said. “She has always been instrumental in promoting younger faculty–she facilitates introductions with thought leaders and strives to involve her mentees in all aspects of a given field from research to advocacy and multisite collaboration. She has supported and mentored me from initial research ideas to NIH-funded grants.”
As a physician-scientist in cardiology, Raman finds her work meaningful and is eager to share that passion with junior colleagues. Although she could be tempted to anchor her identity in her professional achievements, Raman stays mindful of the bigger picture.
“Time is a precious resource,” she said. “I think each of us feels a profound commitment to those we serve—both at work and at home. To really do right by all those individuals, we have to start with our own wellbeing.”
That’s why Raman enjoys getting out in nature and exploring the national parks with her spouse. She also plays piano, enjoys visits to the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indian and Western Art, and shares her mother’s enthusiasm for Carnatic music—a centuries-old genre of classical music originating in southern India.
Zareba describes Raman as “a quiet but strong leader who does it all with compassion and elegance.”
Raman appreciates the value of working with people from diverse backgrounds who bring expertise in different fields. She invites collaborative approaches to fighting the nation’s No. 1 killer, added Dharmakumar.
“Dr. Raman is relentless in her pursuit of advancing cardiovascular care for everyone in the state—particularly for those affected by health care disparity—and beyond,” he said. “The way she embraces clinical medicine, research and education is key to how she is able to attract the best and brightest cardiovascular specialists to IU School of Medicine. Her care in opening incredible training opportunities for young fellows is nothing but remarkable.
“IU School of Medicine is incredibly fortunate to have this visionary leader at the helm of the Cardiovascular Institute.”
ABOUT THIS SERIES
Women are leading the way in helping Indiana University School of Medicine fulfill its mission to advance health in the state of Indiana and beyond by promoting innovation and excellence in education, research and patient care. The Women in Leadership series celebrates the contributions of women who have emerged as strong leaders within the medical school and in their respective fields of expertise.
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.
Laura is senior writer with the Office of Strategic Communications and loves to tell the stories of outstanding students, faculty and staff at IU School of Medicine. A native Hoosier, she has over 25 years of experience in communications, having worked with newspapers and other media organizations in Indiana and Florida, along with small businesses, community groups and non-profit organizations. Before joining IU School of Medicine in January 2020, she was editor-in-chief of a lifestyle magazine serving the community of Estero, Florida.