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Women In Wellness: Kumkum Patel of Equity and Levity On The Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Invest in yourself: physically, emotionally, socially, and financially. Growing up in a competitive world, you realize that the higher up you go, the further you have to fall. As you grow more successful, the more haters and toxic people you’re going to encounter. SO — Invest in your mental health because if you can harness peace and happiness within yourself, the outside forces won’t matter. For your mental health, seek a non-biased therapist, who can remain a neutral party. This is where you can have an outlet without the judgement or influence of toxic “friends”.

As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kumkum Patel, MD of Equity and Levity.

Dr. Kumkum Sarkar Patel is a double-board certified gastroenterologist practicing at St. Jude and St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group here in Orange County. She specializes in irritable bowel syndrome, esophageal, and anorectal disorders. She graduated Magna Cum Laude with honors with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Engineering from Virginia Commonwealth University. She has a Master degree in Public Health from Dartmouth Medical School at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice and went on to get her medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine. She completed her residency in internal medicine at NYU Winthrop Hospital and then went on to Gastroenterology fellowship at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Dr. Patel completed specialized training in GI motility disorders at Washington University in St. Louis through the American Neurogastroenterology and Motility Society. Using her motility training, Dr. Patel helped set up the motility and GERD center at a private practice in Chicago before moving to Southern California with her husband and two young sons in July 2020.

Dr. Patel currently serves as a healthcare consultant and speaker for medical device and pharmaceutical companies. She also serves on the American College of Gastroenterology’s Women in GI Committee to promote advancement for women in GI. Additionally, she is a passionate motivational speaker, and has spoken nationally about women’s health, work-life balance, post-partum depression, burnout, and gut-health related to mental health.

Outside of medicine, she enjoys spending time with her husband and sons, traveling, and singing a cappella. Dr. Patel‘s Instagram platform can be found on @dr.gut_motility. She uses this as an informational as well as an inspirational platform — to educate others on gastrointestinal diseases while inspiring them on lifestyle choices.

Special Awards, Honors, and Leadership

  • 2021–2024 ACG Women in GI Committee
  • 2021 American College of Gastroenterology SCOPY Honorable Mention for colon cancer awareness initiative at St. Jude Medical Center
  • 2016 ACG Presidential Poster Award on Teduglutide Application for SBT Rejection — Las Vegas,NV
  • 2015 Nominee for ASGE Outstanding Manuscript Award in GIE.
  • 2014 Winthrop Research Day Poster of Distinction in Case Series for Gastric Outlet Obstruction.
  • 2013 ACG Presidential Poster Award on EFTR Case Series Poster in San Diego, CA
  • 2012 Gold Humanism Honor Society Biennial Conference plenary session speaker on instituting Humanism in Medicine projects in teaching hospitals — Chicago, IL, October 5th-6th, 2012
  • Speaker for the GHHS 2013 Induction at SGU Graduation — June 14th, 2013
  • 2012 AAPI Most Distinguished Medical Student Award — May 2012
  • 2011 Gold Humanism Honor Society Inductee & Member — Selected by St. George’s University
  • Geoffrey Bourne Scholarship from St. George’s University — merit scholarship for tuition
  • Attended the Paul Ambrose Political Leadership Institute in Washington, D.C. (2/29/08–3/3/08) to learn about health policy.
  • 2005 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship Honorable Mention
  • One of 50 National Merit Award Winners for the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I immigrated to the US in 1993, at the age of eight — I grew up in a very poor family and education was my ticket to a better life. I grew up studying very hard, graduated as my high school Valedictorian, and went on to study Biomedical Engineering in undergrad. From there, I went on to get my Masters in Public Health at Dartmouth Medical School followed by medical school at St George’s University School of Medicine. There I had the opportunity to meet my husband — with whom I completed schooling and training. We started our residency in New York and did a Couple’s Match. During this time, we got married but our lives got more difficult as we shared infertility as part of our journey. We underwent 18 months of infertility, until we finally got pregnant through IVF as end-of-third-year residents. Our fertility journey was complicated by the fact that we were separated then when we started our first year of fellowship.

I matched into Gastroenterology and my husband matched into Cardiology, but the Couple’s Match process actually put us three hours apart. So I began my fellowship journey in downtown Chicago and my husband’s fellowship was three hours south. We started our training as sub-specialty physicians: pregnant, separated, and financially in-debt. I completed my IVF shots on my own and went to my doctor’s appointments by myself. I essentially became a single mother as a first-year fellow after because I was a trainee with a small baby and no partner close by. I often questioned my purpose in becoming a physician because I barely saw my baby while working long hours, my husband barely saw our baby, and we barely saw each other. The distance and the grueling training schedules really took a big toll on our marriage and our lives: professionally, socially, emotionally, and financially.

Motherhood got more complicated as I also suffered from Postpartum Depression — something I had never really known existed — until I was going through it. In learning about it and growing through it, I found my niche in Gastroenterology as an IBS Specialist, motility, and pelvic floor specialist because I realized that postpartum hormonal and physical changes led to functional abdominal symptoms and pelvic floor dysfunction, respectively. My husband pursued a 2nd fellowship as I worked as a 1st year attending gastroenterologist where we got pregnant with our 2nd baby. After my husband finished his 2nd fellowship, we moved out to California in the middle of the pandemic to start our dream lives .

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

Ten days after I gave birth to my second baby in March of 2020 — when the world shut down and we had just been told this was a global pandemic — I interviewed via Zoom for my current job. I couldn’t fly out there but I knew I needed to make an impression over video. My biggest lesson or take away from that story was that you have to make yourself adaptable and versatile in life, because if you really want something bad enough — you can make it work no matter what. I really wanted to move to California and I really wanted a new job. So despite being 10 days postpartum, I was determined to make it work.

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The biggest mistake I made when I was first starting was not realizing that “I don’t know what I don’t know.” Leaving a job in one state and starting a new job in another state is associated with making sure you have nose insurance, tail insurance, etc. Learning about malpractice insurance is important as part of your contract negotiation. Sometimes you’re not even aware of processes, business plans, or the legalities of a job contract.

In starting a business , you don’t have a manual for where or how to begin. There are hoops you have to jump and loopholes you didn’t even know existed. Sometimes, you’re in the dark. A lot of growth as a person and as an entrepreneur has come from learning that you don’t know what you don’t know UNTIL you find out that you don’t know it…and then you have to learn it.

Let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

I am bringing light to the fact that our gut is really the central location to our overall health. Gut health matters most because it dictates how the rest of our body will respond and react. Like Hippocrates said: All disease begins in the gut.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

1. Prioritize your happiness and define what that means to you. An example: As I have gotten older and have children, I realize that making memories and spending time with my family has become my priority — -over being a career woman.

2. Set hard boundaries for yourself and others. This includes your availability to others for work-related matters. Set a hard start and stop time for work, phone calls, and emails. Dedicate time for when your personal life gets to take over and you can pursue personal happiness.

3. Invest in yourself: physically, emotionally, socially, and financially. Growing up in a competitive world, you realize that the higher up you go, the further you have to fall. As you grow more successful, the more haters and toxic people you’re going to encounter. SO — Invest in your mental health because if you can harness peace and happiness within yourself, the outside forces won’t matter. For your mental health, seek a non-biased therapist, who can remain a neutral party. This is where you can have an outlet without the judgement or influence of toxic “friends”.

For your physical health, do aereobic exercise so you can rejuvenate your body AND your mind through replenishing your gut microbiome.

For your social health, remove toxic people out of your life that don’t contribute positively.

For your financial health, start by investing a small amount of your take-home pay so that you eventually get passive income in the future. In the present day, learn to outsource the tasks that dont require your expertise because your time can be better spent elsewhere. That means hiring a virtual assistant to do email tasks, a housekeeper, or just an evening/weekend helper to help your with your tasks .

4. True health is true wealth — if you don’t take care of your own health, you cannot get to where you want to be. True health starts with taking care of your gut. If you don’t feed yourself the right things to allow for your body to flourish, it will no longer get you the results you want.

5. Get a full night’s sleep every night –decisions are better made with clarity and levelheadedness.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Better gut health for better mental health. Mental health is plaguing so much of the world and it drives so much of my clinic. Anxiety and depression are at an all time high and we need to ALL be cognizant of it. Over 90% of our mood hormones and neurotransmitters are made in the gut. So if you think about it — Mood is made in the gut.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

1. Learn to carry yourself on your back. People will drop you quicker than they will pick you up.

2. You have to be ready to constantly pivot or risk getting left behind. Right now, if you want to spread messages to a consumable audience — you have to do it in a way that they are consuming knowledge, example: social media

3. Get a good lawyer. You never know when you’re going to leave a job, find a new job, or need to protect what you currently have — even protecting your likeness is part of your intellectual property and you should be prepared for that.

4. You don’t get something if you don’t ask for it. Don’t assume that you will be promoted or given a title, a raise, or even an opportunity UNLESS you ask for it.

5. Being at the top is lonely, but you have to find your own tribe to continually get your support. It’s going to be a process of trial and error as to who is in that tribe. I’ve lost and gained friends throughout my life and a lot has been because they no longer contributed positively towards my life. Once you find that tribe, cultivate your relationships within your tribe.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

Mental Health is dearest to me because gut health is related to mental health. Almost every disease process I’ve seen has some mental health component to it. With the changes in our environment, society, politics, and everything that has happened in the world– mental health has taken the biggest toll on everyone. The fact that neurotransmitters/mood hormones are made in the gut makes mental health dear to my work as a gastroenterologist.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

www.kumkumpatelmd.com

Equityandlevity.com

Instagram: @dr.gut_motility

Thank you for these fantastic insights! We wish you continued success and good health.

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