Serving the Underserved – Faces of ID: Teena Chopra, M.D., MPH
Do you think serving underserved and underrepresented populations is one of the most important issues facing our country?
Us too. And this doctor is doing just that.
This is an IDSA member who shares her time, talent and treasure with the IDSA Foundation. But that isn’t (exactly) what makes her special. What makes her special will be obvious as you read her “why.”
Through this new “Faces of ID” campaign we will be giving you an inside view into the diversity of people in our ID community.
Get to know Dr. Chopra and the wonderful work she is doing through this recent interview!
It’s really important to spotlight people who are making a difference in infectious diseases — especially right now. We’d like to know what made you want to become a doctor, and what made you choose infectious diseases and Epidemiology?
I wanted to be a physician right from childhood. I come from a family of physicians and professors. My grandfather was a physician, and he was big in helping the community, which was very inspiring to me. And, you know, since then I’ve not looked back, and coming to practice medicine in Detroit was another honor in my life – it’s like my family now. I’ve been here 16 years, and I have met some of the greatest mentors who are in Detroit. Dr. Jack Sobel is one of the greatest ID physicians who really inspired me to pursue infectious diseases. His knowledge and his clinical acumen were extremely inspiring. And that’s why I chose this field. I would choose it again, given a chance.
Regarding a particular mentor who stands out to you, you mentioned Dr. Jack Sobel — can you tell us about that mentorship experience?
Dr. Jack Sobel has been my mentor since I began practicing in infectious diseases and internal medicine in Detroit. He’s always inspired me – I was a resident when I got an opportunity to round with him. I was extremely inspired by his approach towards clinical diagnoses and by his research experience.
Another great mentor I’ve had is Dr. Keith Kay who helped me learn about research methods and helped me become a great mentor myself. I think we can all have several mentors, because we can learn something from anybody. I see my students as my mentors as well, because I learn from them every single day. Mentoring is such a humbling experience – every day we become better versions of ourselves through mentorship.
Talk to us about Wayne State University. It must be both a very difficult and rewarding time to not just be teaching, but to be a student in infectious diseases right now. Tell us about your teaching experience there and how the students have been handling being in school during this pandemic.
Wayne State University is one of the largest urban universities and the only university in the city of Detroit. Ever since I came from India to practice medicine, I’ve been at this university. I did both my residency and fellowship here, and I also did a fellowship in infection prevention in hospital epidemiology and antibiotic stewardship here. In addition to that, I received a Master’s in Public Health here — it’s like a second home to me.
Students come from all over the nation, and they’re all extremely inspired to do research. They are basically the cornerstones for us mentors because we are inspired by them. Particularly during the pandemic, I have found that students are even more interested in the field of epidemiology and public health. I have seen more students requesting to do ID electives and research electives with us now than before.
You’ve been chairing the Student Interest Group at Wayne State for a few years. Can you talk about the activities they’re doing with the IDSA Foundation’s support?
I have been chairing the ID student interest group at Wayne State University for the last two years. These students are mostly first- and second-year medical students who are highly motivated and interested in research and public health. The research areas are in diverse fields of infectious diseases, including HIV and hepatitis C.
In 2020, at the start of the pandemic, a group of students were involved in a lot of community outreach efforts. One of these efforts was installing mobile hand hygiene stations in the community of Detroit – particularly, for the homeless population in and around homeless shelters. Getting access to clean water is extremely important during the times of the pandemic, and these mobile hand hygiene stations have been a huge success in the city of Detroit through the efforts of this ID student interest group. I am really excited about more opportunities and the work that this group is going to do in the future. We are extremely grateful to the IDSA Foundation.
Let’s talk about diversity in medicine – why it’s so important to serve underrepresented populations. Can you tell us more about your experience in Detroit?
Detroit has a 700,000-person population and has suffered years and years of challenges as far as providing equitable health care to all the diverse populations. With the social fiscal crisis that we had in Detroit several years ago a lot of people moved away. So now we are left with this 700,000-person population in Detroit who are predominantly older adults; more than 80% of them are African Americans. And there are a lot of people in nursing homes as well. The young people who had cars and transportation moved away.
So, we are left with this underserved population that is socially and fiscally underserved, which also lacks a basic trust in medicine. This is the population we’ve been working with for many years. I always call it my home, and I feel that they deserve equitable health care. These social determinants of health are extremely important when we are providing care to our patients, and the pandemic has further revealed this broken infrastructure that we have in Detroit.
This is the time when it is even more important that we take into account the social determinants of health while providing equitable health care to our population.
Let’s talk about women in research. You’re a member of the IDSA research committee — can you tell us about women in research and the work you’re doing on the research committee?
Yes, this year I am serving on the IDSA research committee. I am humbled and honored to be given this opportunity as a woman leader to highlight the great work women around the nation are doing; women are bringing cutting-edge research to the forefront. IDSA provides this platform to women, which is extremely important in this day and age to help narrow the disparities we see in healthcare, and we can also narrow that gender gap that still exists, unfortunately.
I really think this is the time for HER. And this is the time for being a good advocate for yourself. I missed out on being a good advocate for myself all through my childhood, so now I tell my daughter (she is seven-years-old) that. I tell her, you have to advocate for yourself… I’m not going to speak for you, you are going to speak (for yourself).
We know you are a huge supporter of the IDSA Foundation, and we appreciate it so much. Would you mind sharing why do you donate to the Foundation?
The IDSA Foundation has been extremely supportive and a building block for me, providing mentoring opportunities to our future leaders. Young infectious diseases students who are interested in pursuing this field, they deserve access to opportunities – they deserve access to education. The more diversity in this field, the better it is to provide the equitable healthcare that we are talking about. This is only an investment in our future leaders — and in our leaders, we’re going to take care of ourselves. So that’s why I think it is very important to support IDSA Foundation.
Dr. Chopra is a shining example of leading from the front. An example of speaking up for, and representing, those who might not be able to speak for themselves.
Sometimes you come across people who embody the essence of everything you want in a person. And, sometimes, telling their story – their “why” – comes at exactly the right time.
Is there someone you think we should highlight in this new “Faces of ID” campaign? Please let us know! Foundation@idsafoundation.org