Honoring Excellence: Q and A with Anai Kothari, MD

2022 David C. Leach Awardee Anai Kothari, MD

This interview is one in a series of interviews with recipients of the 2022 ACGME Awards. The awardees join an outstanding group of previous honorees whose work and contributions to graduate medical education (GME) represent the best in the field. They will be honored at the ACGME Annual Educational Conference, taking place virtually March 30-April 1, 2022.

2022 David C. Leach Awardee Anai Kothari, MD is an assistant professor in surgical oncology at the Medical College of Wisconsin. At the time of the award nominations, Dr. Kothari was a clinical fellow in complex general surgical oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

ACGME: Why did you want to become a physician?

Dr. Kothari: As an undergrad, I really was convinced I was going to pursue a PhD and a career as a basic science researcher. There was not a single moment I can point to as an “ah-ha” moment, but gradually I realized I was drawn to the team-based environment in health care and developing the really unique type of interpersonal connections I saw my physician mentors make on a daily basis.

ACGME: What, so far, has been the most rewarding part of your residency/fellowship?

Kothari: Learning that a career in medicine can be multi-faceted. We not only have the ability to make a positive impact on the patients we care for on a day-to-day basis, but also in other domains, including health policy, research, education, and many others. The other unexpected reward has been the incredible relationships I’ve been able to develop with my peers inside and outside my residency/fellowship programs. It goes without saying, but residents/fellows are some of the most talented people you can work with, and I’ve been so fortunate to be surrounded by incredible colleagues throughout my education.

ACGME: What has been the most challenging?

Kothari: It’s difficult to choose just one example. Or even a handful. In some ways, that was the most challenging part—being willing to acknowledge just how challenging the days were. And, importantly, finding ways to celebrate the small wins and the slow, steady progress.

ACGME: What innovation/improvement did you implement in your program?

Kothari: The innovation/improvement this award recognizes really is an example of how to activate the talent of the house staff to make significant improvements at an institutional level. Our team reimagined what a governing, representative House Staff Senate could accomplish and executed on this vision. We provided the structure and substrate to facilitate GME innovation and change and, most importantly to me, a template for others to recreate it in their own institutions.

ACGME: What does it mean to you to receive this award?

Kothari: This really is a reflection of an incredible team effort. It’s amazing how we all—Han Cun, Dristhi Ragoonanan, Ashley Aaroe, and myself—quickly aligned and played off each other’s strengths. And we received tremendous support from our GME leaders: Diane Bodurka (DIO extraordinaire), Prajnan Das (GMEC Chair), and Elizabeth Grubbs (my incredible program director). So much of the work residents and fellows do often goes (at least publicly) unannounced. We all just tremendously appreciate the recognition and hope it is a catalyst for more initiatives like this one.

ACGME: What advice would you give to other residents/fellows who are looking to either replicate your improvement or implement an original idea of their own in their own program?

Kothari: Don’t underestimate the power and impact a resident-/fellow-led project can have. There are institutional leaders who are always looking to support and sponsor resident- and fellow-led work. And, if you can’t find that support within your program or institution, look outside of it. The GME community really is a community.

ACGME: Is there anything else you would like to add I haven’t asked about?

Kothari: No, but I appreciate the opportunity and am honored to receive this award on behalf of our whole team!