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Match Day Q&A: Vijayvardhan Kamalumpundi

Date: Friday, March 8, 2024

Hometown: Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Undergrad: University of Iowa

Matched: Internal Medicine, Mayo Clinic

Portrait of Vijayvardhan Kamalumpundi

How did you decide to pursue a career in medicine?

All of my life, as a transplant from India to the United States, I grappled with a dual identity. When I would go back to India, people would kind of recognize me as someone hailing from the United States, and then when I would come back to the U.S., people would identify me as an Indian person. So, I struggled to find a sense of belonging between my two worlds. 

I did some volunteer work at St. Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids, and there was a particular encounter where I witnessed a patient who was close to death. There was a physician seated at the bedside just looking into that patient's eyes, holding their hand, and just being present with the patient. That really stood out to me as I was walking past that patient's room.  

When I traveled to India as part of a course on palliative care, I noticed the same underlying principles at practice there. I would frequently see Indian physicians in the same kind of pose, seated by the bedside, holding the patient's hand. 

No matter where I was—in the United States speaking English with patients, or in Kerala, India, where I couldn't speak the local language—I could still interact with patients in a way that I was just human, and I was present with the patient. It really speaks to the universality of humanity and how our shared humanity speaks a singular language. I finally found a sense of belonging in medicine for this reason. 

How has research impacted your time here?

I started research as a freshman in undergrad in the Taylor Lab within the Department of Biochemistry. We were studying mitochondrial proteins such as the citrate carrier and its role in fatty acid synthesis, a process that can be dysregulated in obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and steatotic liver disease, among others. 

That got me interested in obesity medicine and the sequelae of obesity, like hypertension and diabetes. In India, something like 13% of the population has some sort of metabolic comorbidity, even when having a lean body type. That got me interested in that strand of research and really related to me on a personal level.  

When I started medical school in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak. I started to get in contact with mentors who were investigating the intersection between COVID-19 and obesity. I did some retrospective research with Dr. Marcelo Correia in the Department of Internal Medicine where we looked at factors associated with having worse COVID-19 outcomes, and obesity was one of those key factors. Early in the pandemic, a commonly prescribed class of anti-hypertensive medications came under scrutiny as a risk factor for severe COVID-19 infection. We found that these medications didn't have an impact on morbidity or mortality, and that patients with obesity-related hypertension on these medications actually did better.  

Dr. Correia has extended my involvement in more projects, like partnering with the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and looking at the factors that promote adherence and initiation of weight management programs for veterans. That deepened my commitment to obesity and health equity research, and I hope to do more of that in residency.

How have teaching and mentorship shaped your journey through medical school?

Mentors really empower you to discover yourself. I had an amazing network of physicians in my hometown and mentors (shoutout to Dr. Stephanie Saey, Dr. Brooke Jennings, dr. Ramya Sampath, Dr. Jeremy Zhang, and Dr. Solanus de la Serna, among countless others) who not only guided me in shaping my personal and professional journey but also provided unwavering support at every turn. I really wanted to be that person for more disadvantaged students and other first-generation immigrants like myself. 

When I started medical school during the COVID-19 pandemic, there were a lot of changes in my life going on: familial adjustments, social isolation, and the societal impact of the George Floyd incident and the Black Lives Matter movement. I had to look inward and ask myself: What can I do, as a medical student right now, that can help change the health care institution that I work in? 

Through my work with the Teaching Distinction Track, I created a one-hour interactive session in collaboration with nephrologists and medical education and health equity experts here at the Carver College of Medicine. We delivered it to about 100 medical students here and at Des Moines University to delineate the differences between race, genetics, and ancestry in medicine, and how conflating the three in medical education and research has direct impacts on health care outcomes and perpetuating health care inequalities. We had an absolutely amazing response. Students in their clinical phases not only applied the knowledge, but also shared their insights with their preceptors. 

What got you interested in internal medicine as a specialty?

Because I was so involved in research early on, I was kind of guided by data and numbers, and that's good to a certain extent—but it can only take you so far. The patient should always serve as the compass for guiding our medical decisions. What drew me into internal medicine was talking with patients and trying to layer medical knowledge with what they understood about their condition. Recognizing the patient’s perspective not only comforts them, but it also empowers them to participate in their decision-making, as well. Internal medicine excels in leveraging numbers and data to discover cutting-edge treatments, but I would argue that its true strength lies in applying this knowledge within the patient’s context, actively guiding and personalizing their care.  

What are your hopes and goals for the future?

After residency training, I don't know where I'll be in the country, but I know that there are certain principles that have anchored me thus far and will continue to anchor me in the future: mentorship, research, and excellent clinical training. After residency, I'm planning to pursue fellowship, maybe in the field of gastroenterology, but maybe I'll discover something else that gathers my passion. 

Wherever life takes me, I know that I can always go back to those three things that have gotten me here and the mentors that have helped me get to this point. I know wherever I'll go, I'll be successful.