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August 16, 2005 > Ranjana Sharma, M.D.

Ranjana Sharma, M.D.

The challenge and adventure of exploring new horizons has never been far from Ranjana Sharma's life. As a young girl in Northern India, she overheard one of her uncles talking with her father about possible careers; medicine was one of those mentioned. At that time she thought to herself, "I think that sounds good." With the encouragement of her parents, both highly educated - her mother, a college graduate and her father, a Ph.D. with specialties in English, Education and Philosophy - at age 17 1/2 years old, Ranjana followed the path to become a medical doctor.

Although becoming a physician was an accepted profession for women in India, true to her nature of venturing down a road less traveled, Dr. Sharma selected the specialty of Internal Medicine. "In those days, almost every woman wanted to or was expected to go into Gynecology. This was not the life I wanted to live and I decided on Internal Medicine; to do something different - not every woman has to follow the same path. I was the first woman in the department of Internal Medicine at that medical school." She says there was no resistance to her decision. "They were very happy. The professor loved having a woman on board."

Five years of medical school at Aligarh followed by six months of internship offered plenty of challenge and little time for much else but during this time, Ranjana met Rakesh, her future husband and "best friend," who was studying for his Ph.D. in Biochemistry. They married in 1976 after completion of studies and Rakesh, who "wanted to see the world," applied for fellowships around the world. The first response came from Japan and the newlyweds decided that although they would ultimately like to come to the United States, they could do that later. The reverse - seeing the United States and then Japan - might not be possible. So they were off to a foreign country with no knowledge of the language and little but their new educational degrees and adventuresome spirits to keep them company.

"It was different," says Dr. Sharma. There was some culture shock, but similarities - family structure and social structure - with other Asian countries including India, cushioned the change to a new environment. "Language was a shock." They lived in Hiroshima, a large city, but where only a handful of people spoke English. For a while, sign language had to do while they learned to speak and write Japanese. Since her medical license was not transferable to Japan, Dr. Sharma worked as a "fellow" under the supervision of a recognized physician.

Dr. Sharma says that clinical training was excellent in India, but when working in Japan, she was able to learn much about technical advances in medicine. Later, moving to the United States, the combination of clinical training in India and technological orientation in Japan, gave her a balanced medical background. After spending 1 1/2 years in Japan where one of her two daughters was born, Dr. Sharma returned briefly to India, and then moved to Dallas, Texas where she worked with a renal transplant unit.

In the United States, she faced license restrictions and was required to take qualifying "board exams" before finding a hospital residency. The exams were difficult since they not only covered medical practices, but included pre-clinical subjects such as anatomy, physiology and biochemistry, much of which had been part of her early medical school curriculum. Two boards were written exams (one day and three day exam) and the last, an oral board, was administered after one year of residency training.

By this time, Rakesh, Ranjana and their daughter (a second daughter was born and raised in Fremont) had moved to the Bay Area. Searching for a residency position, Dr. Sharma volunteered her services and completed "externships" at no pay. Finally, an offer at University of California at San Francisco allowed Dr. Sharma to complete the requirements to be recognized as a medical doctor in the United States.

In the fall of 1986, Fremont represented an opportunity to buy a house at a reasonable price and live in a central location of the Bay Area. Dr. Sharma chose Family Practice as her specialty and began her practice. As an active physician and energetic person, Dr. Sharma has always looked for additional challenges. In 1998, she answered an advertisement for a position as the Director of Physician Assistant and Nurse Practitioner Training Program in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Stanford.

Although she had never taught before, Dr. Sharma impressed both faculty and students and was selected for the position. She served as director for three years and still holds a position as Assistant Clinical Professor on the faculty in the Department of Family and Community Medicine. Medical students often visit Dr. Sharma's office to gain practical experience in an established medical practice.

While balancing commitments to family, her medical practice and teaching, Dr. Sharma found time to serve with the Northern California chapter of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin. She served twice, 1998 and 2002, as president.

Approaching 20 years in the area and beginning her two year position as Chief of the Medical Staff of Washington Hospital, Dr. Sharma is satisfied with her accomplishments. She comments, "I have no second thoughts about my career and I love my job." Asked about the future, her reply encapsulates this extraordinary woman. "A part of my personality is that I need to find other things to do. I am content with who I am, but always exploring. The feeling of contentment does not hold me in one place." Although her future goals are undefined, when this dynamic physician, mother and wife speaks of future goals as being within "a reasonable target," it appears that few limits can be applied.

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