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August Spotlight on Naman Shah, MD

What do you do?

I’m a physician who also tries to improve our policies and institutions for protecting population health.

What does your research hope to accomplish?

Currently, I work with Jan Swasthya Sahyog (JSS), The People’s Health Group, in rural Central India. In addition to providing healthcare in what could only be called a crisis situation, they also try to address the underlying factors through research, training, and policy advocacy. I only hope to continue helping them in any way possible.

How does your coursework relate to the research you do, if at all?

Medical training gave me a broad base in health, as well an informal access to cultural and social insights through my patients. What really helped was the coursework I did in epidemiology, which studies the determinants and distribution of diseases in populations.

What are you working on now? (this week, for example)

Right now I am working on writing a proposal to start efforts at JSS to manufacture our own therapeutic food to treat severe adult malnutrition.

What does a day in your life look like?

In the US I have a day job (medical resident). At JSS, where I lived on campus – the true meaning of resident, my days were much more exciting. They would range from treating patients in the clinic, wards or operating room, discussing ideas for how to improve health equity, working on trainings and research, and generally being stimulated by wonderful colleagues and mentors.

Who does your work benefit?

Foremost, I think my work benefits me. It is a privilege that I find tough, fun, and deeply rewarding. One strives for the effort but I don’t put much stock into worrying about impact.

How did you (your team) decide to focus on this particular area of research?

Happy accidents actually. I first worked in India because of chance meeting and even met JSS similarly through happenstance. There’s no right path or area, you find something good and just jump.

What are some recent successes you’ve enjoyed in academia and/or research?

I worked for many years in the study on the effectiveness of different malaria drugs and on measuring resistance to them. As the work was fairly specific, only a few people in India had this expertise.

Collaborating together we were able to detect emerging resistance and change the national drug policy in record time which affected how millions are treated through the public health sector there.

How do you deal with setbacks, if any?

This isn’t easy and I think what I learned the most is that we can’t do it alone. We all will have setbacks, and I think our penchant for comfort or complacency is just human. So internal clarity and strength are important to build but will also not be enough. Building a community and mentors with a similar vision keeps you motivated and accountable.

What advice would you have for other young Jains pursuing medical research?

I’m too young to have advice. There is so much we don’t know about health and our world, you will have fun figuring that out.

What advice would you have for Jain medical students?

Medicine is a calling, not a job, fight the trend towards the latter.

How has Jainism influenced your research decisions?

Jainism has really been a bedrock for me, in life and work. From ecological consciousness, compassion, fighting ego, Jain teachings and the community do remind and challenge me to do better. Sometimes in medicine certain principles are in tension, for example to save people from malaria by killing mosquitoes, none of the answers are easy and I will keep evaluating them. Jain philosophy even comes up in the core of research, for example Bayesian thinking which seeks to account for prior information in analyses and could be plainly stated as ‘observations depend on the position of the observer’ is quite akin to anekantavada – the multiplicity of viewpoints.

What is your long-term objective for your research? Short-term?

In the short-term I’m just hoping to absorb the ethics and the drive of the JSS founders, they are real superheroes.

How can people learn more about the work you’re doing and your end goal?

Please learn more about JSS and how to contribute here:

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