A watershed moment in life: A springboard to academic success. That is what pathologist, Dr. Mukesh Agarwal, calls the University of Rochester Medical Center, where he was a resident in the 1980s.
Today, Mukesh is a professor of pathology and medical education at California University of Science and Medicine’s (CUSM) School of Medicine in San Bernardino. We caught up with him recently to find learn more about what he’s been up to since his time in Rochester.
He did residency at URMC (AP/CP) from 1982-85. Subsequently, a chemical pathology fellowship at Cleveland Clinic Foundation.
After training, he spent over two decades at a newly opened Johns Hopkins Hospital affiliated to a new University medical school in the United Arab Emirates, where he held clinical and academic positions. He rose up the ranks to become Professor and Chair of Pathology. In 2017, he returned to the U.S. to take on his current role at CUSM.
His research focuses on diabetes, with more than 90 peer-reviewed publications. He has been on international panels to formulate the latest guidelines for gestational diabetes mellitus for the World Health Organization, WHO and the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, FIGO.
What are some things you remember when you look back at your time living Rochester?
Rochester helped me in more ways than I can count. I met some of the finest teachers, mentors, and colleagues there. I learned a panoply of life lessons. I have too many moments at Rochester that I treasure. It is – and will always be – a part of me. Rochester also taught me to bicycle along the canal and cook (being alone, I had to).
Were there any specific people who made an impact on you?
My mentor is Dr. Neil Blumberg, who I am still in touch with regularly. He unlocked my academic gene. Our work on transfusion immunomodulation changed medical practice. His great advice was, “Do not second guess what you have done.” I learned how to temper great academic success with humility from Drs. Dan Ryan and Anthony DiSantagnese. I learned from Dr. Thomas Bonfiglio how to relax despite being super busy and always looked up to Dr. Stanley Patton, my former chair.
Amongst the residents, Mark Mitchell’s brilliance bowled me over. His wisdom and aphorisms are beyond compare and I am honored to be regularly in touch with him. Bill Rodgers treated me like family when I was alone in Rochester. I cannot quantify my gratitude for his goodness. Each sumptuous dinner at his home was memorable. Steve Spitalnik and Glenn Ramsey were residents worth emulating. A quick story: When I was looking for external referees to evaluate my credentials for promotion, I emailed Mark Stoler after over a decade. He responded five minutes later. John Laczin visited me two times during my stint overseas. All in all, besides academia, I learned many lessons in goodness, tolerance, and ethics.
What’s it like being back in the U.S. after living and working overseas for so long?
Against all our plans, we moved back to California three years ago. It was ordained by The Fates, I suppose. Johns Hopkins overseas turned out an eclectic mix of cultures, from over 100 countries. It made us understand them better, become less judgmental, and more forgiving.
After two decades, much has changed in the U.S. Americans have become less trusting and more money oriented. Also, it is hard to decipher this new crop of millennials, students and otherwise. Growing up, we believed our professors, we did not question them. There seems to be little leap of faith in this generation.
When did you realize you wanted to become a pathologist? Was there any one experience or person who pointed you in that direction?
Like most things in my life, it was sheer serendipity. A strange trick of fate. For learning research, I tried pathology for a year. I discovered all the advantages: the happy personalities, the good mix of life balance, the teaching, the research. I was smitten – and there was no going back. The rest, as they say, is history.
What advice would you give young people looking to pursue a career like yours?
Do not overthink your life. Make lemonade when life gives you lemons. At the new Johns Hopkins overseas, there was a paucity of expertise, e.g., statistics. The ethos was different from my background. But diabetes prevalence was the second highest in the world. And pregnancy was rampant. So, I started working on gestational diabetes, which turned out to be a great hunting ground for research.
Do you have any hobbies you spend time doing outside of work?
Today, I believe I am quite a chef. I own more than 300 cookbooks. Overseas, we learned from different cultures, from Japanese to Italian to Serbian. I was always and am still passionate about English language and literature. I remain an avid cyclist. Ironically, we live in Redlands, CA. When I cycle to the nearby University of Redlands, I see huge posters with the initialism: U of R – a metaphor that the University of Rochester will always be a part of me. It is a de ja vu.
Tell us about your family.
My wife has a master’s in economics but was a home maker by choice. We have two adult daughters. Priya has a master’s in clinical therapy treating childhood trauma through play therapy. A niche field coming into its own. She went to Colgate University-a stones’ throw from U of R. Neha is starting college waiting for life to unfold. We live together, an un-American concept, but normal by Asian standards. It is a blessing to be so close together.
I am close to Upstate N.Y. My brother has been living in Binghamton for four decades. My daughter misses her alma mater, Colgate University at Hamilton, N.Y. So, I shall visit soon.