Healthy To A Hundred: Rajeev Jain of Texas Digestive Disease Consultants On 5 Things You Need To Live A Long, Healthy, & Happy Life

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine
12 min readOct 15, 2022

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I wouldn’t describe myself as an authority because I’m not the researcher that does the actual study or the experiment in the lab, so I’m not that kind of authority. But I think that because I’ve spent a lot of time working in the GI society and I see a lot of patients, that has allowed me to participate a variety of public awareness campaigns and in leadership related efforts throughout my career. I think my special contribution to the world of wellness pertains to my knowledge regarding disease processes and how to manage them. That’s something that I seek to live up to in my practice on a daily basis.

The term Blue Zones has been used to describe places where people live long and healthy lives. What exactly does it take to live a long and healthy life? What is the science and the secret behind longevity and life extension? In this series, we are talking to medical experts, wellness experts, and longevity experts to share “5 Things You Need To Live A Long, Healthy, & Happy Life”. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing (Rajeev Jain).

Board Certified in Gastroenterology, Dr. Jain is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians, American Gastroenterological Association and American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.

Dr. Jain has been named annually to D Magazine “Best Doctors” in Dallas since 2001. In 2002, he was appointed as Chief of Gastroenterology at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. Since 2006, Dr. Jain has been annually named a Texas Monthly Super Doctor. He received the Presbyterian Hospital House Staff Annual Robert L. North, M.D. Teaching Award for 2002–2003. In December 2012, he was presented the Outstanding Contribution in the Field of Medicine award by the Greater Dallas Indo-American Chamber of Commerce. Dr. Jain served on the Texas Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy as a Councilor from 2013–2015. He served on the Governing Board of the American Gastroenterological Association as Clinical Practice Councillor from 2015–2017, as well as on the Board of Directors for the American Board of Internal Medicine from 2016–2018.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?

My parents immigrated from India when I was one. My dad was an engineer, and math and science were an important thing in our family. I was always good at math and science, so I thought about the field of medicine.

When I was in medical school, gastroenterology, to me, was an amazing field because I felt an acute sense of gratification when thinking about helping a patient by taking out an appendix or a gallbladder. As GI physicians, when we stop an active bleeding or take out a stone from the bowel duct in an infected patient, there’s that immediate feeling of gratification. Also, as an internal medicine doctor or family practice doctor, I’ve been taking care of some of my inflammatory bowel disease patients for 22 years. That longitudinal care — with getting to know patients, their family members, and seeing them grow old with you — is rewarding and fun.

The third thing to me, and I tease my cardiology friends with this, is that in cardiology, it’s either a pump or an electrical problem in the heart — but in gastroenterology it’s the stomach, colon, small bowel, pancreas, gallbladder, liver, all these things behave differently and are approached in a different manner, so the variety of care is also very different.

My day is broken up, sometimes in clinic, sometimes I’m doing procedures, some are acute things, some are long-term things. It really makes for a variety of interactions that I think keeps me fresh.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

I was a GI fellow rotating with Dr. Peter Loeb, who hired me. I think a big lesson I learned from him was his passion for making sure that whatever was going on was in the best interest of the patient, and that was always his North Star.

When you’re in training you are inundated with so much work to do, you are kind of at the bottom of the totem pole, and you forget sometimes the real reason you do all this work for — to take care of the patients and their families, they’re humans. Dr. Loeb treated everyone with such respect, and he always ensured that we were doing the very best thing for our patients, whether we needed to call 10 other doctors, bug the nurse, or call the family member. Watching him practice really imprinted on me the way that I should practice, and I hope that I can live up to half of his standards because if I did, I would be happy with myself.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are so many people that have helped me throughout my career. However, two people really stick out to me, and one was Dr. Irv Schwoeppe at St. Luke’s Hospital in Houston. When I was a medical student rotating with him, he was a pulmonologist and an immensely knowledgeable guy. As the chief of medicine, he would put his hand on my shoulder and say “Rajeev, there are 10 symptoms going on and it could be this, this, and this, and clearly you know the answer is this.” The first two weeks on the rotation he would give me a question and then answer it himself so that I didn’t feel bad if I got it wrong. Throughout my rotation with him, he really didn’t give me a chance to be wrong. Back then, teaching used to be a bit tough, other teachers were known to make you feel less whenever you didn’t have the right answer to a situation. Dr. Schwoeppe was definitely ahead of his time, and he did his very best to teach in a way that was inspiring and that truly stuck with me.

Another person that was instrumental to me was a professor whom I didn’t really get along with at the beginning. Every day he’d start by grilling me with questions and it didn’t take too long for me to get something wrong. Then he’d throw his hands up and he’d say “students… they don’t read anymore! You will go read this and give me a 20-minute update tomorrow.” Back then there was no internet, so I would go to the library and it would take me an hour to just find an article. But for what’s worth, in that month I read so much every night because he challenged me, and it made me learn a lot.

The third person I’ll say is Dr. Peter Loeb. He’s the guy that hired me in my current practice, who is now retired. If he and my other partners, Dr. Stevens and Dr. Nunez, didn’t give me this opportunity to work with them, I would’ve missed out on what has been the most rewarding opportunity of my professional life. My private practice has been immensely rewarding, and I don’t mean this in a financial sense, I mean this in a fulfilling way. This private practice allows me to take excellent care of patients and the people I get to work with every day, so I’m immensely grateful to them for taking me into the practice.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

One is that I’m enthusiastic. I enjoy what I do and I hope that comes across not just to my colleagues, but to my patients. Personally, I want to work with people who are also enthusiastic and like to see doctors who carry themselves in an enthusiastic, positive way. Two is that I’ve always enjoyed learning. I’m always reading my journals or looking up things in books, medical and non-medical. The reality is medicine is constantly changing — there are new discoveries, new medications, new approaches. If you are stagnant, you will be left behind. So I would say my second good quality is that I like to learn. Third, I’m easy to get along with. I feel like this trait makes it easy for me to work with others as a colleague and also with patients, whom I am able to easily connect with. In my practice, I try to connect with patients in a way where it’s not doctor ‘up here” and patient ‘down there’. I try to talk to them in terminology that is appropriate for whatever level they may be.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of our interview about health and longevity. To begin, can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fields of health, wellness, and longevity? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?

I wouldn’t describe myself as an authority because I’m not the researcher that does the actual study or the experiment in the lab, so I’m not that kind of authority. But I think that because I’ve spent a lot of time working in the GI society and I see a lot of patients, that has allowed me to participate a variety of public awareness campaigns and in leadership related efforts throughout my career. I think my special contribution to the world of wellness pertains to my knowledge regarding disease processes and how to manage them. That’s something that I seek to live up to in my practice on a daily basis.

Seekers throughout history have traveled great distances and embarked on mythical quests in search of the “elixir of life,” a mythical potion said to cure all diseases and give eternal youth. Has your search for health, vitality, and longevity taken you on any interesting paths or journeys? We’d love to hear the story.

I always wanted to take care of patients. I’m not saying academicians don’t do that, but I wanted to be a primary patient caregiver, a clinician. At the same time, I really enjoyed that academia meant participating in society. For example, I have been in the American Gastroenterological Association for a long time, serving on committees, chairing a committee and I was even a private practice counselor for the governing board. That led to me being on a five-year term as the patient education advisor for the AGA. That, in turn, has led to a wide-reaching Trust Your Gut awareness campaign that I’ve been honored to be the spokesperson for. It has been a truly rewarding experience in which I am helping the organization get the message out about gut health to patients and directly communicate on behalf of the GI society.

Based on your research or experience, can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Live A Long & Healthy Life”? (Please share a story or an example for each)

Professionally, looking at the science and seeing the patients every day, I think the biggest, most important things are lifestyle modifications. People need to live a healthy lifestyle and, I don’t know if this is one bucket or many buckets, but also things such as diet, exercise, and managing stress. These are all important matters because if you, early in life, let yourself gain excess weight and things of that nature, those can lead to a slew of other health problems. I think lifestyle, diet, managing work-life balance — not just for doctors, but for everybody in their careers — is crucial to living a long and healthy life. We work like crazy in this country, but we have to balance it by making sure we give ourselves some type of mental break. The one thing I think is coming up big in healthcare is sleep. The restorative effects of sleep for the mind and the body are just incredible, and I don’t think we give sleep the right amount of importance as we should. The fifth one goes back to the Trust Your Gut campaign, which goes back to being aware of when you’re not healthy and not blowing that off. We need to get care early rather than late. As many may know, delayed care can lead to so many poor outcomes.

Can you suggest a few things needed to live a life filled with happiness, joy, and meaning?

I’ve been reading a bit about the blue zones that a National Geographic author had talked about, and there were all the medical things that made sense — eating healthy, exercising, all these things — but the one thing that stuck out to me that was non-medical, was community. The reality is we are social beings and we need a nourishing, supportive group of family, friends, coworkers … and having those right people in the right situation makes an immense difference in your life. The problem for many folks is we don’t get to pick where we were born. We don’t get to pick, many times, the situation we’re thrown into — so if you live in one city of two different zip codes, there could be as much as a 10 to 20-year lifespan difference because of social determinants of health, racism, and so forth. There are things we can control and there are a lot of things we can’t.

Some argue that longevity is genetic, while others say that living a long life is simply a choice. What are your thoughts on this nature vs. nurture debate? Which is more important?

I don’t know how you separate the two — most parents can tell you — my wife and I have two boys, same two parents, same house, same everything, but they’re two different people. Their own nature is different. We nurtured them the same way but there are some things that you can’t change, yet there’s a lot that can be modifiable. I would go back to what I mentioned earlier: I read this term somewhere called the ‘uterine lottery’. If you’re born to parents that are well-off, in a good country, you won the lottery. For instance, before you were born you had access to prenatal care, your mom probably had a good OBGYN doctor, you reaped the benefits of good nutrition, get to go to good schools, eat, etc. You don’t worry about “where’s my next meal?” or “do I have a roof over my head?” Those are things kids don’t pick. It happens to them, so that’s where I think the nurture part is playing a big role.

Life sometimes takes us on paths that are challenging. How have you managed to bounce back from setbacks in order to cultivate physical, mental, and emotional health?

Anybody that has life without setbacks is either lying to you or oblivious to what happened to them. We all go through those and those are the ways we learn to be better. I think individuals get through those difficult paths by some degree of inner strength, and by some degree of that external support group I was telling you about — like having parents, a spouse, and people that help you get through all that’s difficult. Basically, having someone to bounce that off of — “Gosh, this happened to me at work today” or “this happened to me with my friends, what should I do?”

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“Luck is where opportunity meets preparation”. For example, we moved from St. Louis, Missouri to Houston, Texas and I happened to be hanging out with a bunch of friends who were interested in excelling academically and becoming doctors. I had kind of thought about that option before, but those guys had razor sharp attention to that and that got my attention. I always wondered if I had stayed with my original friends — not that they were bad in St. Louis — but they just had a different mentality, and maybe that opportunity to hang out with those kinds of people me go down a different pathway.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Doing the Trust Your Gut campaign is allowing me to help and bring the most amount of good in my position. When I see a patient in clinic, maybe I see 10/15/20 people per day, but through the Trust Your Gut campaign it’s like having a megaphone that can get out through a variety of news outlets and all these other avenues we have to really cause a big impact. I didn’t create the content, the AGA did, but I’m hopefully being a messenger that can lead 10, 100, 1,000, or hundreds of thousands of patients to behave differently and have better health outcomes.

What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?

People can follow me on twitter at @rajster. For patients and providers who want to learn more about Trust Your Gut, please visit patient.gastro.org/trust-your-gut/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.

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Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor