From engineer to doctor, at age 47


Troubled by her rheumatoid arthritis and the general lack of specialists to treat it, Janhavi Ajit Rao decided to trade her high-flying career for scrubs

Would you quit when you are at the pinnacle of success in your chosen profession and go back to school? Though the idea sounds like the stuff dreams are made of, some rare humans do achieve such a feat.

Meet Janhavi Ajit Rao, a resident of Mahadevpura, who stepped into the field of medicine after 18 years of being a software engineer.

In 2003, Janhavi Rao, was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. At the time, she was already a mid-career IT professional and a new mother. Her ailment was tough to diagnose and as the years passed by, she saw the great service doctors were doing to manage chronic diseases. Something began gnawing inside her– It was a desire to do more to mitigate the pain of her fellow human beings. So, she bid adieu to her successful profession and decided to study to become a doctor. That was in 2013.

Now, eight years later, Rao is an MBBS qualified doctor pursuing an MD degree.

Rao was born and brought in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, did her Bachelors (Electronics) at the University of California, San Diego and Masters in University of California, Santa Barbara. She worked in the US for top tech companies before moving to Bengaluru in 2002 with her husband (who is also an engineer) where she worked for another six years in the top companies before starting her own technology company in the defence electronics sector. However, in 2003, eight months after she delivered her son, she started experiencing joint pain and swelling which was treated with painkillers.

Dr KM Mahendranath, ex-president of Indian Rheumatology Association and former national chairman of Bone and Joint Decade-India, told Bangalore Mirror, “Though she had visited a number of doctors, I could finally diagnose that as a kind of rheumatoid arthritis. She took treatment from then on.”

The diagnosis changed the way Rao thought. “Despite enjoying a rewarding career in engineering in the US and India, I always sensed a vacuum inside me and an aspiration to have a more meaningful impact on humanity. When a close relative was diagnosed with a chronic condition, I was deeply impacted by how her doctors helped manage her condition. So, I thought I should move from the desktop to the field with robes so that I can make a change on the ground. Finally, I said goodbye to my engineering career in 2013 to enroll in an MBBS program,” she said.

Backing from the family

While many families would not support such a venture at mid-career level, her family encouraged her to take up that challenge. So, she began first year of MBBS at Ramaiah Medical College in August 2013 at the age of 40.

For Rao, this was a peculiar experience as not just her classmates but even many of her lecturers were younger than her. “I am an extrovert and hence it was easy for me to make friends. Age never became a barrier –my classmates all treated me like one of their own age. I can never forget one particular incident in our lab. A faculty member was talking about respecting parents and listening to their advice. He turned to me and asked if I would listen to my parents and take their permission to get married. I had to show him my mangalsutra and tell him that I already was married,” Dr Janhavi said. She said more often than not, people could not say that she was older than the rest of them.

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Challenges met

But at the age when she began her studies, the challenges were multi-faceted. “Studying and managing roles as a mother, wife, and daughter-in-law were quite challenging. Medicine requires at least a few hours of study a day in addition to classes, labs, and clinics and so I learned to be quite disciplined about time management. I would not let go of any opportunity to study, whether it was waiting at a doctor’s office for my son or in between classes at college. I would often stay up late after everyone in the family slept because I would get a good quiet time to concentrate. It was very challenging at first because as I said I had never studied in college in India. In the US especially in engineering, the exams are short, problems-based with no essay-type answers. In fact, in the first internals, I was not sure I could write for three hours straight. I had not done a three-hour exam in 23 years since the Class 12. Eventually, I got the hang of it and passed all my exams in first class,” she said. But, there was a time in the first year when she had to climb a long set of stairs for various classes, multiple times a day as students were not allowed to use the lift but a letter from Dr Mahendranath helped her get permission to use the lift.

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During her internship year, she had to do 32-36 hours of continuous duty, which was very challenging. About Dr Janhavi, Dr Akshay Rao, Assistant Professor (general medicine) at Ramaiah Medical College said, “She was very enthusiastic and eager to teach the new subject which helped her excel in medicine.”

Rao finally finished MBBS in February 2020 by securing first class in all the parts. She then worked for a few months at outpatient clinics in the US last year besides being an independent practitioner for local residents in her neighbourhood. She has now got admission to pursue MD program at Riverside University Health system, California, USA.

Two worlds

So, what are the differences between being an engineer and being a doctor? “After I started MBBS and especially when I started the clinical postings at the teaching hospital, I realised how much I enjoyed the interaction with the patients and the whole process of communicating with them, understanding their symptoms, thinking of possible diagnosis and formulating a treatment plan. There was complete satisfaction in helping people understand their conditions/problems and how to deal with them. As an engineer and entrepreneur, the excitement comes differently – from solving very complex problems and improving existing solutions. For example, in my startup, I was solving the problem of securing wireless communications and ensuring that the soldiers can communicate with their bases and each other on a battlefield without being intercepted by the enemy. In medicine, it is all about communicating with the patient- listening, observing and understanding their condition and winning their confidence. The actual problem may or may not be complex. In engineering more often than not you get multiple iterations to solve problems and there is more room for mistakes. In medicine on the other hand, the margin of error is razor-thin and sometimes non-existent like in surgical fields,” she said.

Age no bar

Rao had decided to get enrolled in 2013 and she got admission under the management quota, before the Medical Council of India (MCI) revised the age limit for applicants. In an order issued on January 23, 2018, the MCI, says … in order to be eligible, the upper age limit for candidates appearing for National Eligibility Entrance Test and seeking admission to MBBS programme shall be 25 years as on the date of examination with a relaxation of 5 years for candidates belonging to SC/ST/OBC category. However, in November 2018, the Supreme Court, granted interim relief for students who challenged the upper age limit by putting a stay on the age limit, till further orders. Bangalore Mirror spoke to Dr. Prathab AG, Registrar of MS Ramaiah Medical College. “I have never seen older students studying in my college. However, Jahnavi was one of the brighest students among the seniors I have seen,” he said.



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Sagar Biswas

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