Chandana Shekar, MD
Completing her cardiac imaging training before general cardiology fellowship, she hopes to have a career in prevention.
Chandana Shekar, MD, is a second-year general cardiology fellow at the University of Arizona College of Medicine (Phoenix, AZ). She completed medical school at J.S.S. Medical College (Mysore, India), and then came to the United States to complete internal medicine residency at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine (Farmington, CT), and completed an advanced cardiac imaging/cardiac CT fellowship at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center (Torrance, CA). Shekar has co-authored more than a dozen research papers published in peer-reviewed journals and has presented more than 50 posters at medical conferences worldwide. She plans to pursue an academic career in preventive cardiology and cardiac imaging.
Why did you decide to train in cardiac imaging before entering a general cardiology fellowship?
It actually started off as something bad that ended up being something really good. I originally applied for a cardiology fellowship as a third-year medical resident like everyone else, and whether because I limited my geographic region too much or didn’t apply to enough programs or some other reason, I didn’t match. Instead of doing a hospitalist job, I decided to start another fellowship to learn more skills. Things fell into place for me after I connected with Dr. Matthew Budoff at Harbor-UCLA. He's one of the pioneers in cardiac CT, so I jumped at that opportunity to train with him and Dr. Sion Roy to obtain my certification in CT. We learned and taught cardiac CT and did a lot of research, and my 2 years of experience there exposed me way more to the cardiology world than I ever could have thought. That actually opened up a lot more opportunities and pathways for me in both research and academics. It also enabled me to be more successful when I applied to general cardiology fellowships the second time.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted you personally since you contracted the infection during your training. How has that experience changed your perspective as a physician?
It has definitely changed my perspective. Although we as doctors have empathy that we've developed over the course of training, once you're actually a patient, you develop way more of it and also truly realize the importance of the nursing staff and how much they care. As an international graduate whose entire family is in India, it was very humbling to see that everybody in my program as well as the ICU team pitched in to bring me back to health. It was a little scary because it was the earlier days of the pandemic, but despite there being a no-visitor policy for patients, pretty much everybody I know in Phoenix was in the same building as me, so that helped me mentally. My crew from my previous program also checked on me every day, so it felt like I had a family here and my fears were reduced because everyone was there for me and they were trying their best. One of my cardiology attendings was even double-checking my Tylenol orders.
What has been your most meaningful clinical experience?
There have been many. Every patient is different and important, and you get to learn something new every time. But the experiences I had during my rural rotations in the villages and tribal areas of India during my medical school days were very formative. There were illiterate patients with no health awareness, hardworking daily-wage farm workers and manual laborers who didn’t even have enough money for food and no transport to the nearest hospital, which would have been hundreds of miles away. The pathology there and working with limited resources to get them good medical care was a challenge and a life-changing experience. We did a lot of preventive care and day-surgery camps in makeshift clinics in the local primary school buildings. They were grateful, and we were humbled. I still remember some of those patients.
What is the best advice you've received from a mentor?
Never give up. If you're a good medicine resident and you really want to be a cardiologist because of the love for the subject, you will make it through—you just have to work hard, have patience, and persevere. The cardiology program director at my internal medicine program at UConn, Dr. Peter Schulman, told me that. He had more confidence in me than I ever did in myself. I was very discouraged the first time I didn't match into a cardiology fellowship, but his confidence in me played a major role in me not giving up.
How do you see the field of cardiology changing in the next 5 years?
Cardiology is changing at a very fast pace, as everybody knows. One good thing is we're seeing a lot more diversity within the cardiologist population—there are more women, more #HeForShe, and a lot more people venturing into new branches like cardio-oncology and cardio-obstetrics. I see more residents being involved in cardiac research than even 4 or 5 years ago. In imaging, specifically, there has been a lot of exciting research coming out with ISCHEMIA, REDUCE-IT, and the more recent EVAPORATE study, in which I participated. A lot of trials are using imaging modalities as their main research tool, so the scope is increasing. When more of that happens, you can use all these imaging modalities to delve more into prevention and other branches as well. This leads to more management options, improved timing and appropriateness of precise interventions, reduced complications, and ultimately better patient care. It’s becoming more of a multimodality, well-rounded field because all the branches are advancing, which is very exciting.
If you weren't a physician, what else could you see yourself doing?
I'd either be a writer or I'd be a lawyer. I read a lot—biographies and nonfiction mostly—and I write a lot, mostly random life experiences or philosophical stuff for myself or blogs in the past. As a lawyer, I’d probably be a defense attorney. I talk a lot, and I like working with and helping people.
What her nominator Martha Gulati, MD, says:
Chosen as our outstanding first year fellow in June 2020, she is well-accomplished with published research. In her first year of fellowship, she published at least four manuscripts, had several national presentations at meetings including a late breaker at the American Heart Association meeting (as a co-author), and was an excellent fellow. Additionally, she has been especially resilient after having contracted COVID-19. She is a smart, talented woman in cardiology who now has experienced being a patient, too.
*To nominate a stellar cardiology fellow for the Featured Fellow section of TCTMD’s Fellows Forum, click here.