Gastroenterologist Employs Media to Help Deliver the Message

What's in a name? For Roshini Raj, MD, a board certified gastroenterologist and internist at NYU Medical Center/Tisch Hospital in New York City, brevity has been a key factor.

What’s in a name? For Roshini Raj, MD, a board certified gastroenterologist and internist at NYU Medical Center/Tisch Hospital in New York City, brevity has been a key factor.

That’s because Raj’s full name is Rajapaksa, and it’s the name she goes by in her medical practice. But several years ago when opportunities in television—including contributing to the Today Show and Good Day New York—began to present themselves, the doctor recognized a change was in order.

“When I first started doing TV I had so many people struggling with [my last name], and I felt like it became a bit distracting to what I had to say,” Raj recalls. “And I also thought for someone who is trying to increase her media presence, Dr. Raj had a better ring to it.”

Not by coincidence, the phone has since been ringing off the hook.

No stranger to medicine

Both of Raj’s parents are physicians, and as an only child, she’s certain their careers had a major influence on her decision to become a doctor. However, that’s not because she was pressured into the field. Rather, they instilled in her the value of helping people. And they told her that whatever career she embarked on, she should make sure it was about helping people as much as she could. Raised as a Buddhist, that was also part of the family’s philosophy.

“I also saw their lives, how much they enjoyed their practices, and the fact that even though they were working hard, they got so much satisfaction from their patients,” Raj says. “I saw the little presents they got at Christmas, and the notes and cards. I saw what a direct impact they had on people’s lives. That’s what convinced me.”

When Raj joined the staff at NYU Medical Center/Tisch Hospital, she became the facility’s first female gastroenterologist, a distinction that served her well when a television program came to the hospital wanting to do a segment on colon cancer screening. The producers wanted to film a doctor performing a colonoscopy, and they wanted a woman doctor.

“They chose me by default,” Raj says. “But I had also done some public speaking on colon cancer screenings, so I seemed like the appropriate choice. And I loved the experience. I found it so powerful to be able to reach such a huge audience, and to be able to talk about something that I was and still am passionate about. Then, one connection led to another, and it just sort of snowballed.”

What the …

In 2010, Raj authored “What the Yuck!? The Freaky & Fabulous Truth About Your Body.” As a gastroenterologist, she was well aware of the potentially embarrassing questions and topics that surfaced in her office, and of the embarrassment many patients felt in asking those personal questions. She wanted a forum where patients could find answers to their questions anonymously.

“Some of the answers are fun and lighthearted, and some are more serious questions that could really impact your health,” she explains. “I had been doing a column at Health Magazine, which I still do, answering medical questions, so I decided to put them together in a book.”

Doing so, Raj says, helped her explore a lighter side to her personality. It helped her recognize that talking about health doesn’t have to be overly serious all the time; that people can have fun and learn at the same time.

“And,” she adds, “I think sometimes we learn the most when we’re enjoying ourselves simultaneously.”

Staying in balance

Just two months ago, Raj launched a new skin care line called TULA, which is the Sanskrit word for balance. The products are all formulated with Tula Probiotic Technology, which features rice proteins and vitamins A, C and E, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, along with fruit extracts. The technology also contains a complex that includes yogurt, green tea, and blueberry extracts.

“I feel that what we put in our bodies is internally affecting how we look on the outside,” explains Raj, who is truly a walking ad for the product line. “I’m 42, and people often tell me that I look a bit younger than that, and they admire my skin. So I thought, why not share some of the things I do, both what I eat and also what I would want to put on my face, with women everywhere.”

Raj does in fact walk the walk. She has two sons, ages 5 and 7, and despite a challenging schedule prioritizes getting a good night’s sleep. She maintains a healthy diet, and believes those components give her the energy she needs to adhere to her schedule. She consumes lots of fruits and vegetables, oatmeal, yogurt every day, and does not drink alcohol or caffeine.

“I’m not saying this is what everyone has to do, but this definitely helps me keep up my energy level,” she says. “And I do take time out for myself. This is what I like to tell women, and it applies to men too, but women tend to feel guilty sometimes that they are taking some time out for themselves. But I encourage them to do it. I think it’s good for them, and it’s good for their family.”

Going one on one

Raj says she loves the different aspects of both her media and medical careers, but that if she had to pick which is most rewarding, it would come back to the one-on-one interaction she has with a patient.

“First of all, a patient coming to see me is the most important thing,” Raj says. “And if I perform a colonoscopy and find a polyp, and it’s advanced, which means that if it wasn’t taken out within the next year or two it could grow into cancer, and knowing I was able to remove it for the patient, and together we were able to prevent them from developing cancer, to me, there’s nothing to replace that.”

People often ask Raj if she plans on giving up her medical career at some point if she continues to make it big in the media. She tells them it’s the furthest thought from her mind.

“I can honestly say I don’t ever want to do that, because as much fun and excitement as it is to be on TV, I would miss that very personal satisfaction you get from helping an individual one on one.”