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Valuing and connecting with our diversity – Everyone has a story

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Lyndsey York Henize

Vinutha Atmakur, MD, Hospitalist for Emory Decatur Hospital

Vinutha Atmakur, MD, a Hospitalist at Emory Decatur Hospital (EDH), relocated to the United States from India in 2003. She was born and raised in a small town in India where she completed her education, including medical school, and two years as a physician. She decided to move to the United States to continue practicing medicine and follow her husband, who had already relocated from India. Growing up, Vinutha was very close with her family and everyone often pitched in to help each other. "My father passed away when I was 18 years old and my mother was a house wife. We lived off my father’s savings for a while, but my life quickly changed when I assumed the responsibility as caregiver both emotionally and financially to help my family," said Vinutha. Being the oldest daughter, Vinutha felt that it was her responsibility to be the "father-figure" for her siblings. Because of this time in her life and being so young, she realized she wanted to make an impact on her family and community. She soon found her life’s dream of becoming a doctor. "Everything happens for a reason and practicing medicine was a great opportunity for me to give back to my family and community," Vinutha expressed.

Vinutha and her husband were married in an arranged marriage. "Arranged marriages are very common in India and we experienced a long distance relationship for six months before getting married. My husband was already here to begin his career on a financial sponsorship by his family, and then I joined on his sponsorship after we married," Vinutha shared. She began practicing at Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan where she stayed for ten years prior to joining EDH. Vinutha proudly stated, "I feel that my work here is appreciated and valued as much as it is at home. From the beginning I felt welcomed into the culture and I was honestly more in my own head about potential adversities, but I have never experienced anything less than appreciation." She explained how there is a community of other physicians and Indians who communicate regularly and it makes her feel closer to home. This same group of people also join to help one another should someone need assistance back in India. The Indian community has offered many opportunities for people to connect and participate in traditional Indian gatherings. "Even though many of us have different backgrounds and from different countries, our core values are the same. We all are here to care for each other and grow. It is nice to gather with others who have experienced similar backgrounds as me," explained Vinutha.

Vinutha explained that she has been fortunate to feel accepted and appreciated in a different culture. "My mental challenge is that I tend to pay too much attention to what is around me or in the media, and I let those situations get into my head," Vinutha explained. "There are a lot of cultural adversities occurring these days and I try not to assume that will happen to me. Thankfully, I have never felt uncomfortable or unwanted around others, and Emory Healthcare has always made me feel respected and welcomed," Vinutha added. For a girl from a small town in India to practice medicine under the Emory Healthcare umbrella, it is a dream come true for her. She truly feels her hard work and dedication has paid off.

When asked about what she is most proud of, Vinutha shared, "Being from India, I was able to capitalize on my education and establish my own identity. I am very proud of where I am from and who I am today. Though, my most rewarding achievement is being a foster mom." Vinutha is a loving wife and mother to her six year old daughter, but she is also a foster mother to a 24-year-old young man from Haiti. She was on a medical trip to Haiti in 2013 where she met an interpreter named Moses (pictured left with Vinutha). The two quickly formed a bond and Vinutha learned of his dreams of becoming a doctor. Now, she helps him financially as he is completing his third year of medical school, but she is also there as a mentor and support. "My favorite thing is that he calls me mom," explained Vinutha. Moses and Vinutha communicate regularly through FaceTime, phone calls and text. Vinutha is looking forward to seeing Moses in person again soon and excited to introduce him to her daughter as well.

Not only does Vinutha experience a busy personal and professional life, she also was faced with many difficulties during the height of the pandemic. "India does have access to many health care resources, but it is limited. That is partly why I went into medicine. During the pandemic, many of my friends and family lost their battle with COVID-19," said Vinutha. Unfortunately, Vinutha has not been able to travel back to India to visit friends and family, but is looking forward to the next time she can properly mourn with her loved ones. Knowing the struggles India faces daily, Vinutha hopes to eventually move back home with her family. Her dreams are to open her own practice and raise her daughter in the culture she grew up in. "I hope to one day serve and give back to the community I came from," Vinutha shared.