Lessons From The Immigrant Hustle: “Nothing replaces hard work” With Dr. Bhavya Rehani, of Health4theWorld

Amine Rahal
Oct 14, 2018 · 8 min read

I had the pleasure of interviewing Bhavya Rehani, MD, Assistant Professor in Neuroradiology at University of California, San Francisco and founder of this year’s winner of ‘Tech Startup of the Year’, Health4theWorld. Dr. Rehani — a first-generation immigrant from India, co-designed an award-winning application — connecting doctors, nurses, health care workers, and allied healthcare professionals in low-resource settings to premier academic experts and online training in the US. Health4theWorld serves 22 countries and 3,500 patients annually and offers training in cardiology, neurology, radiology, pediatrics, palliative care, geriatrics, and much more.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Yes. I spent my childhood years in India. My parents are doctors so I grew up in university campuses surrounded by health care professionals who worked hard to make lives of others better. My grandparents lived in a small village which was 2–3 hours from New Delhi. Visiting them opened my mind to disparities in health. They also taught me the concept of selfless giving which is called “seva” in Hindi. They always had a smile, nice story to tell and something good to do to makes lives of others better. That has stuck with me in my life.

Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?

I loved reading which opened up my mind to a world beyond where I lived. The more I read the more I got fascinated. The stories of people saved with medical breakthroughs in US fascinated me. I remember reading about stroke patients being saved by timely neurointerventional treatment which my grandparents could never get. Numerous stories of disease survivors inspired me. I wanted to be involved in research for better cure and learn latest technologies in medicine. When I read about the stories in US, I also realized that the world is a family. Everybody feels the same kind of pain when they are sick. The emotion of helping people is same in different cultures and makes us human. There is a thread of commonness which connects us. It took away the fear from my heart of moving to a different country and helped me take the leap of faith to come to US.

Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?

I moved to US on a research fellowship. It was an exciting time. I was able to do brain research which I had always dreamt about. People were nice and welcoming. Perhaps, the hardest part was applying for a radiology residency. I didn’t realize that it is one of the most competitive specialties in US. I had fallen in love with radiology in medical school. However, when I moved to US the challenge had just begun. Though I had top notch USMLE scores and excellent research, the fact that I was a foreign medical graduate made things harder. I had to prove that I was twice as good to be deserving for an interview and finally get a residency spot. I feel lucky that I could train at University of Cincinnati for radiology residency from top stroke researchers and at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School for neuroradiology fellowship.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?

There are two people who I feel grateful for making the move manageable. My husband, Ankur Bharija who moved at the same time as me to US. He is a pillar of strength and has always supported me. He is currently a Geriatrics and Palliative Care Physician at Stanford. He always believed in me. The second person is my best friend, Pam Strohmeyer. Pam was a clinical research coordinator. Pam and I shared an office when I moved. My husband and I called her “Our welcome to US package”. She was always on speed dial when we were confused in a grocery store and deciding what is the difference between different tomato ketchups to when we were lost in translation between Indian and American English. She truly helped the change become more manageable and fun.

So how are things going today?

I feel blessed. I am a new mom to a beautiful daughter. Last year, we started Health4theworld, which is a 501 c (3) nonprofit inspired by unmet medical needs worldwide. The nonprofit has been a dream journey in terms of what we are trying to do, what we have done, people we work with, our team of volunteers and the people who we help as well as learn from everyday. I also feel lucky to be practicing neuroradiology and helping stroke patients everyday.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Health4theworld was started in the spirit to bring goodness to the world. We are creating free innovative technology and education solutions to bring health to low resource settings worldwide. We believe in the power of education to empower doctors and patients. The innovative technology solutions include machine learning, virtual reality and mobile health. In one year, we have grown to 22 countries. Currently, we are working on creating one of the largest open access education platform to bring education in medicine to remote corners of the world. All this has been done by an inspiring team of volunteers who are driven to make this world better. The patients worldwide inspire us to work harder everyday to create better solutions.

You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?

1. Faster visa processing times

2. Less exchange visitor visas and more work visas.

3. Easier transition from work visas to green cards for professionals.

The main aim is that the professionals who move to US feel welcome and can focus on doing their best to make lives of others better.

Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.

1. Optimism: In Health4theworld, we work in multiple areas in low resource settings. The road can be hard as we deal with people suffering from debilitating diseases. Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see in the world.” We fill ourselves with optimism as a team to find solutions to the problems so we can help people better. One stroke patient told us that he had lost hope and didn’t have any doctors or therapists close to him in his village. We focused on creating a solution. We created an interactive chatbot with inspiring hopeful messages for people suffering with stroke. He smiled when he looked at the chatbot. Optimism is the key to move on to embrace life.

2.Hard work: Nothing replaces hard work. There are no shortcuts to success. At Health4theworld, we decided to build our learning management website and app on our own equipped with machine learning chatbots, virtual reality videos and educational videos which we edited on our own. The organization is driven by the passion of volunteers. Volunteers from different parts of the world came together to take on monumental tasks in spite of their busy schedule. The hard work of all of us has shown its results in terms of impact. Each day there is always an option to take the easier route of not working hard. However, it is the path of hard work which leads to success.

3. Follow you own dream: Each of us has a dream. My dad always told me while growing up that it is important to focus on what we dream in life. It is easy to look around at what everybody else is doing and loose track. In today’s world, technology, emails, social media and texts can distract us. The question which I ask myself, every day is- “Is what I am doing in alignment with my dream?”

4. Power of love, family, friendships and a strong team: Love makes us human and is one of the most important ingredients in life. Countless times, I have relied on my family and friends for advice when hit by obstacles. They have believed in me no matter what. Each of us can relate to facing tough times in life and knowing the value of love. I have also learnt with time about the value of a good team. Our amazing team at Health4theworld moves mountains and inspires me everyday.

5. Give back: Our success is not just defined by our personal accomplishments but what we do to make this world better. There is great happiness in doing selfless good things for others. It makes us a better human being and helps us shine light in someone’s life which brings deep sense of fulfillment.

We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?

1. The spirit of Americans: We never let anything discourage us for long. Americans always rise up from any setback and keep going.

2. Diversity: Different cultures, talents, backgrounds, colors, beliefs and races grace US. This encourages growth and learning from each other.

3. Innovation: US is the land of birth of cutting edge technologies in medicine and other fields. The innovative solutions and research will lead to a better future. What we consider untreatable right now will be treatable tomorrow.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)

Bill, Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet. Their contributions to global health are immense. They have used their achievements in life to give back in a meaningful way which is truly very inspiring. It will be a pleasure to connect with them everyday.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Amine Rahal

Written by

Tech Entrepreneur and Contributor on several publications, Amine is best known as the CEO of IronMonk Solutions, a New York based digital marketing agency.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.