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Get to know Emory’s next executive vice president for health affairs
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Nikki Troxclair
Assistant Vice President, Health Sciences Communications

Ravi I. Thadhani will join Emory in January as executive vice president for health affairs, executive director of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center and vice chair of the Emory Healthcare Board of Directors. He comes with a distinguished career as a physician, a researcher and an academic and health care leader. Here’s a look at the person behind the CV.

Ravi I. Thadhani

Ravi I. Thadhani joins Emory on Jan. 1 as executive vice president for health affairs, executive director of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center and vice chair of the Emory Healthcare Board of Directors.

Q: Let’s start at the beginning. Where and how did you grow up?

I was born in India and moved to Nigeria when I was a year old. After two years, my parents, younger sister and I moved to Hawaii. A year later, we moved to Guam, which is where I spent my middle-school and high-school years. My first time living in the mainland United States was when I attended college at Notre Dame. 

Q: What was the impetus for so many moves, and how did that influence you?

Neither my mother nor father finished high school. My father’s path led him to different places around the world where he started small businesses with his brother. Their first attempts in Africa and Hawaii didn’t work out, which eventually led us to Guam. He and his brother, along with a few others, started importing electronics from Japan and distributing them all over the Pacific, which turned out to be successful. This was at a time when Walkmans and video cassette recorders were in their heyday. 

So, my childhood was a bit of a nomadic experience. As a result, I’m comfortable in many different environments because I grew up in very different communities, in different settings, and experienced different cultures. 

Q: Since neither of your parents finished high school, did they push you to do so and to go to college?

My parents wanted me to go to school so I would have options. For context, I grew up on an island that is 30 miles long by eight miles wide. There were basically two options for those who wanted to leave and explore opportunities off the island — one was to go to college and the other was to join the military. More than half of my class went into the military, and a few of us went to college. I was able to attend college because I received a scholarship from the island itself to go to Notre Dame.

Q: What made you decide to become a physician?

Like many people who go into medicine, I was influenced by having an ill family member. In my case, it was both my parents. While I was growing up, my mother was hospitalized almost every other month due to severe asthma. My father had kidney disease and ended up on dialysis. As a result, I was in medical environments quite often.

While in college, I worked as an operating room scrub nurse back home in Guam for two summers to see if that is what I wanted to do. 

Then I had the opportunity to go to the Philippines with a group of physicians and spend a few months with them serving an impoverished community that had no cars and no power. I realized this is what I love doing. And the rest is history.

As far as my specialty, it was obviously influenced by my father’s illness. I wanted to conduct research and treat people with kidney disease so they could survive longer and have a better quality of life. 

Q: Yet much of your research focuses on preeclampsia in pregnant women. Why is that?

My passion has always been in pregnancy and adverse outcomes of pregnancy, largely because this is an area that has been ignored in research. Preeclampsia, or hypertension during pregnancy, also affects the kidneys, so it’s not really far afield for me. And it can have an enormous impact on a woman’s life. Women who have hypertension in pregnancy and complications thereof are more likely to get kidney disease in future years and more likely to go on dialysis as well.

Q: What do you consider to be your most significant study?

My hope is that it’s the next study coming out. But up to this point, I’d say I’m most proud of the whole series of work we’ve done on pregnancy and preeclampsia. We’ve been able to No. 1, demonstrate that we can actually predict who will develop preeclampsia; No. 2, identify a marker to do so; No. 3, get those tests approved and used in Europe and in current evaluation in the U.S.; and No. 4, develop a therapy, which is still being tested, to prevent women from developing preeclampsia.

Q: You’ve had a distinguished career in practice, research and leadership, for which you’ve received many awards. Which award has been the most meaningful to you?

I would have to say the award that I’m most proud of is the Harold Amos Faculty Diversity Award from Harvard Medical School. The award highlighted my strong efforts and desire to improve equity and inclusion in the workplace. This involved not just mentoring individuals from underrepresented backgrounds, but creating an environment where they are welcome – where they thrive and get promoted. 

Q: What drew you to Emory?

A combination of things. First, Atlanta is a very diverse community, and I see this as an opportunity to make a large impact in health care in a diverse community. Second, I heard from the university's top leadership and board members there is a real desire, a hunger, to take an already storied academic medical center and graduate education institution to the next level, going from a regional powerhouse to a national powerhouse. Third, I was drawn by Emory’s world-class areas of excellence, including immunology, brain health and community care.

Q: What are you looking forward to when you come to Atlanta, and who will be coming with you?

I’m not familiar with Atlanta, so everything will be new — the people, the culture, the food. I’m excited to get to know this community, including its health care needs and opportunities. I’ll be moving here with my wife of 27 years, Valerie. We have three children, two girls and a boy. They are out of college, in college and starting college in the fall respectively, so they won’t be moving here with us, but we hope they’ll visit.

Another thing my wife and I are looking forward to in Atlanta is buying a house. We’ve always lived in a condo or apartment, and I play the guitar. Valerie has always wanted a house where she could relegate me and my guitar to a room with sound-proofed walls. I promised her we would get that in Atlanta.

Q: How did you meet your wife, Valerie? 

Valerie and I met while we were both working at Massachusetts General Hospital — she is a primary care physician. It was quite serendipitous. Two individuals, from different parts of the world with different backgrounds, meeting because of their mission in life. She is from Belgium, her family moved to Minnesota for the Mayo Clinic and she went to Yale. I am Indian, grew up on Guam, went to University of Pennsylvania for medical school and then we met at Mass General.

Five years ago, however, Valerie completely pivoted and decided to teach young children with learning disabilities, and now she works in a lower school. 

Q: What do you enjoy doing outside of work besides playing the guitar?

I love to go hiking and walking. As a family, we have always traveled quite a bit. The yin and the yang of our family is that Valerie, being Belgian, likes to travel in Europe, and I like to travel in Asia. So, we have gone all over the world, from Australia to Austria and from the Mauritius Islands to Vietnam. Valerie and I were both passionate about exposing our children to different cultures, peoples and experiences.

Q: What should your Emory colleagues know about you as they prepare for your arrival in January?

I am a very “in-person” type of person. I like to be face-to-face with people and understand where they are coming from. I oversee research at Mass General Brigham, and we have about 2.5 million square feet of research space. I can say with confidence that I have visited every square foot. The reason — it allows me to understand what is going on at the ground level, what the researchers are experiencing, the environment they work in, the challenges they are facing. 

I’m going to do the same when I get to Emory. I’m going to put on my walking shoes, put some granola bars in my backpack and I’m going to meet people — physicians, nurses, clinicians, care team members, researchers, faculty and staff — and discover the special sauce that makes Emory what it is.

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