Family Medicine from a Global Perspective
At age 35, Jehan Murugaser, MD, already has lived a culturally-rich life. Born in Paris, France, he’s lived in both California and Sri Lanka, studied medicine in the West Indies, travelled on a mission trip to Tanzania and completed his residency in family medicine in Pennsylvania before coming to Cape Girardeau, Mo., to join Southeast Primary Care as a family medicine physician.
“I’ve been on islands and three continents,” he says. “With all of the moves, I’ve come to appreciate diversity a lot and really understand the importance of listening and relating to others from their own perspectives.”
He was 10 years old when his father, an electrical engineer, moved the family from Paris to California. He initially showed signs of following in his father’s footsteps, becoming fascinated with
the way things worked. “I think I was 7 years old when I took apart one of my dad’s cameras,” he says with a laugh. “It was in pieces on the dining room table, but I got it all back together eventually!”
Through high school, he took apart and rebuilt computers, but in the back of his mind he continually thought about medical school. “I’ve always wanted to be a doctor,” he says. “I did really well in math and physics, but I’m a very social person and I like interacting with people of all ages. That’s what attracted me to medicine.”
One of his more formative life experiences was when his father decided to move the family from California back to his native Sri Lanka. “He wanted to give back to his country and ended up
starting several power projects there,” explains Dr. Murugaser. “It was life-changing because I had always lived in developed countries, but Sri Lanka was considered a ‘developing’ nation. It was a hard transition, especially as a young teenager.”
What Sri Lanka lacked in terms of development, however, paled in comparison to what Dr. Murugaser says he came to enjoy while living there. “Because you don’t have all the facilities or availability of material things, you focus more on connecting with people,” he says. “My friends and I rode bikes, hung out together and ate food together. My closest friends to this day are from Sri Lanka.”
He returned to California for college, majoring in molecular and cell biology while in the premed program at the University of California
– Berkeley. While there, a volunteer program solidified his decision to study medicine.
Serving the Underserved
Called The Suitcase Clinic, the program is a student-run network of community clinics that provides free medical and social services to homeless and underserved individuals in the region surrounding Berkeley. “It made me realize how someone can be so marginalized in society and be almost un-noticed, which is a sad thing,” says Dr. Murugaser. He progressed from being a clinic volunteer to becoming an instructor and class administrator in charge of arranging community projects and activities. In between, he also served as an emergency room volunteer at a local medical center. “Education and building awareness of community resources is vital,” he adds. “And simple things such as conversations on preventive health can go a long way to improving overall community health.”
Medical school was a trip to another country – the island of Grenada. With the college situated right along the ocean, Dr. Murugaser wanted to expand his hobbies from California surfing to deep-ocean diving. He convinced a group of medical students to join him. “I did take it more seriously than they did, though,” he says.
“On Saturdays, I’d go to sleep early and then scuba dive early Sunday mornings. By Sunday evening, I was relaxed, rested and ready to study again.” Now certified as an advanced open-water diver, Dr. Murugaser has dived to sunken ships, been in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans and seen hammerhead sharks swim nearby.
“You remember the movie Titanic?” he says excitedly as he raises his hands in the air. “One time, when we dove to the sunken cruise ship, I re-enacted that famous scene where Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio stood at the front railing with their arms spread out wide, except, of course, I was under water. ‘Look! I’m flying!’ I think I expended an entire tank of oxygen trying to do that!”
He also had the chance to go on a monthlong medical mission trip to Tanzania where he joined a medical team of which had never seen a doctor in their area. “I actually started a medical program while there with these patients medicine and say ‘See you later.’ We made signs and had them translated into Swahili and tried to educate them on the importance of good hygiene practices so that we could improve their health.”
Building Strong Relationships
Now in Cape Girardeau, Dr. Murugaser says he wants to continue to promote health education to adults and children. Expanding upon his own passion to foster patient relationships, he says, “I can give patients advice, but if they can’t relate to me or they don’t trust me, they won’t follow my advice. The real secret to good family medicine is listening and building strong patient relationships so that, together, we can work to improve their health.”
He also sets a good example. A passionate user of fitness trackers, which he says combine his love of technology and health and wellness, he competes against himself and other online users to reach 10,000 steps – or more – a day. “Not everyone can start and immediately complete 10,000 daily steps,” he cautions. “So I ask if they are able to walk with a friend for five minutes a day or will they dish up a plate of food like they normally do and then remove one-quarter of what’s on the plate before they start eating? These simple steps can start someone on the road to good health.”
“I’m eager to meet new patients and to get to know everyone in Cape Girardeau,” he adds. “I wanted some place that had four seasons, was culturally diverse and had that welcoming, smaller-town atmosphere. I found it and I’m so glad to start my practice here.”