Minnesota Oncology Physician Recognized for Volunteer Efforts

Note: The following article was published in the March 2014 issue of Minnesota Physician. View the article on page 20 of the March 2014 issue here.

Recognizing Minnesota’s Volunteer Physicians

Each year, Minnesota Physician Publishing honors physicians who have volunteered medical services in recent years. Through volunteer medical activities that span the globe, Minnesota’s volunteer physicians have provided medical care and medical education while expanding cross-cultural skills and understanding. Their compassion, commitment, and generosity reflect deeply held values of Minnesota’s medical community.

By Minnesota Physician Publishing staff

Making a Difference in Minnesota and the World: Translating Telugu

{image_1)One night a few years ago, Rajini Katipamula-Malisetti received a phone call that a man had been found unresponsive in a swimming pool. She met his family and friends at the hospital and spent two hours helping them understand why they should have life support removed. The family was very grateful to her for explaining this difficult decision in their own language.That language is Telugu, spoken by people from Andhra Pradesh, a state in southeastern India. It is also Malisetti’s first language. “Becoming a doctor was my greatest dream as a child,” recalls Malisetti. “And, with a lot of hard work, I was able to secure admission into a medical college in India.”

Malisetti arrived in the U.S. in 1999 for her residency in Massachusetts and then completed a three-year fellowship in medical oncology and hematology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. She now practices at Minnesota Oncology.

While Malisetti is able to offer the occasional translation for Telugu patients, most of her volunteer work consists of reviewing medical records for patients back home in India. She happened onto this way of giving back when a friend in India called for advice on her mother’s cancer diagnosis. Malisetti was able to review the records via email and offer her perspective. Since then she has been able to help several others in the same way.

Growing up in the Telugu culture and also knowing Western medicine, Malisetti tries to give advice that honors the beliefs of Telugu patients here and in India. “I spend time explaining in the most basic terms what they are up against,” explains Malisetti. “I try to foster the idea that they need to ask questions to understand what they have and how to better manage their symptoms.”

The biggest challenge for Malisetti is the gap in cultural beliefs. “In American medicine, people believe that only the patient has the right to choose or refuse treatment,” she observes. “This is very different in our culture, where patients are often told what to do. It is very confusing for them when they are given choices.”

Malisetti volunteers out of humility, obligation, and gratitude. “Having grown up in the Indian medical system, I am reminded of how highly physicians are regarded. This reminds me that I have to keep doing the best I can,” she acknowledges.

Malisetti’s contributions to the health and well-being of the Telugu people in Minnesota and India have not gone unnoticed. Last year she was honored with the an award of excellence at the annual convention of the Telugu Association of North America (TANA).

“My goal is to be able to do more of this,” shares Malisetti. “I have three daughters under the age of 10 so I am not able to spend more time volunteering. But as the kids get older, I would like to become more involved in providing free care to those in need back home.”