The pursuit of the American Dream can take people in many directions. For Dr. Anita Jeyakumar, director of pediatric otolaryngology at Akron Children’s Ear, Nose and Throat Center, it took her from a city in Nigeria to the U.S. with the hope of becoming a physician. In medical school, Dr. Jeyakumar got a glimpse of how research could challenge the status quo and improve patient care. Today, with several of her own research studies underway, Dr. Jeyakumar is living her American Dream of caring for patients and leading studies that aim to positively impact the lives of others.
When did you first become interested in research?
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when, but my formal research interests started during my undergraduate education. My first research study looked at the effect of methamphetamines on a guinea pig hippocampus (part of the brain involved in the formation of new memories and associated with learning and emotions). We learned that even small, short exposures of the drug caused significant, measurable, negative impacts to the guinea pig’s brain. This finding is likely why the drug is quite addictive in humans.
What research projects are you involved with currently?
I have several studies going on, but a few include: identifying novel hearing loss genes, particularly in the underserved populations; providing affordable, validated speech therapy services using an online application; establishing national standards in pediatric dysphagia, and understanding the effect of middle ear fluid and ear infections on education outcomes in children.
How has past research or a research study impacted your approach to patient care?
Several of my studies have impacted my approach, including the safety of ibuprofen on surgical patients, specifically tonsillectomy patients. Our study found ibuprofen to be safe and, after many more studies, ibuprofen is now used as a standard, post-operative pain medication for most surgical patients to decrease the use of opioids.
What is the greatest challenge/opportunity in your area of research?
With any area of study, the greatest challenge is finding the resources to ask a question properly and implement the infrastructure to get the question answered in a safe and timely fashion.
Why do you think others should consider doing research?
I think it’s important to get involved with research so you can gain a better understanding of the effort and commitment needed to ask pertinent questions that ultimately translate into better outcomes for patients. For those who are interested in research, I would say there are always questions to be answered, processes and outcomes to improve. Finding a mentor is important and having the patience to be methodical is also important. For me, without a doubt, the leadership at Akron Children’s, especially Dr. Michael Kelly, has been instrumental in getting programs launched, supported and getting our organization the recognition it deserves as a leader in pediatric care.
While research is interesting, so is getting to know the person behind the studies.
Where did you grow up?
I am an immigrant from Nigeria, but I am Indian by heritage. I had an extraordinary childhood that I would never trade. However, growing up in a developing country and then coming to America has taught me to be resilient, hard working and truly believe in the American Dream.
What was your first job?
I was a librarian. The job taught me work ethic, organization skills and the ability to find just about anything in a library. Although, now, Google does much of what people used to go to the library for.
What’s a hidden talent you have or something people may not know about you?
I wanted to be a dancer when I was little, so before my career and family, I was an amateur ballroom dancer, specifically Latin dance.
What’s your favorite food/meal and who makes it best?
I love cheesecake and dessert! There is a place in New York City called Junior’s that makes an awesome cheesecake and they can even ship them to your house!
What piece of advice did someone give you when you were young that still resonates with you today?
I grew up knowing about and believing in the American Dream. In our country, you can have a dream, and with time, commitment and practicality, the dream can become a reality.
Read more about Dr. Jeyakumar in her new physician feature from 2018.