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You're legally blind, and yet you completed medical school and did a residency in internal medicine. It's an incredible story.
There were a lot of obstacles, obviously—I call myself the "optimistic realist." I wasn't able to do procedures like stitches, that kind of stuff. But I think I found acceptance with my patients, partly because I was very honest about my disability. I wouldn't say it helped me, but in some cases it gave me an inroad to create some sort of rapport—sometimes when I didn't have any other way. There are a lot of things in medicine that can't be done with vision.
What's the nature of your disability?
I'm actually technically legally blind. They have to draw a line somewhere, and so I'm within that. But I have a lot of vision. I can't drive, but I can see most things. I can read regular print, although it's slow and cumbersome sometimes. The things I know I miss are subtleties and expressions, things like that.
You're now enrolled in the SPH Preventive Medicine Residency program. What led you into public health?
I had worked in the hospital, I had worked in the clinic, and both places were good—I liked what I was doing. But I couldn't imagine myself working in either setting for a long time.
I think I felt like I would get in a rut, basically. That's what appealed to me about epidemiology—there's a little bit of everything. Also, working in clinics, I felt like I was running on a treadmill trying to change people's behavior. I was thinking they've got to figure out a better way of getting people to do things more healthily than just telling them every time, "You've got to do this." Because people don't like to be told—I don't like to be told! I have learned from this program that there are other ways.
You still do need to tell people one on one, because hearing it from a physician is useful—as some of the smoking studies have shown—but there are other things I didn't understand until I got here. Things like how programs work or don't work, and things way outside medicine, like the fact that there are very few grocery stores in Detroit. It didn't occur to me as a resident in internal medicine how you would go about changing that.
What do you see yourself doing after you finish the Preventive Medicine Residency?
I see myself doing a couple of things. I see myself doing field work—not necessarily lab work, because I don't think I've ever been patient enough to do real lab work—and then I see myself doing policy. It would be fun to do both.
Photo by Peter Smith
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Name: Ruta Sharangpani
Hometown: Holland, Michigan
SPH Degree Program: M.P.H., Epidemiology, Preventive Medicine Residency, 2009
Previous Degrees: B.S., Biology and Psychology, Michigan State University; M.D., Wayne State University
Specialty: Internal Medicine
Learn more about applying to the University of Michigan School of Public Health.