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Dr Sunita Kanumury: Steering AAPI to greater strength

Halfway into her term as President of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin -- the second woman to lead it in its history – New Jersey-based allergist and immunologist Dr Sunita Kanumury talks about her goals and accomplishments helming the biggest Indian ethnic organization in America.

It is difficult to pin down Dr Sunita Kanumury for an interview, what with her flourishing practice in allergy and immunology and the added responsibility of AAPI President. But a persistent NRI Today managed a phone interview just before she left for a hectic tour to India--to attend AAPI's pre summit continuing medical education and mini trauma conference in Bhubaneswar, Orissa on Dec 28- 31 in collaboration with Kalinga Foundation and Kalinga Hospitals; and the 5th Indo-US Healthcare Summit hosted by AAPI and Andhra Pradesh Medical Graduates in USA, at Hyderabad on January 2-4, 2012.

It was a historic occasion when Dr Sunita Kanumury received the gavel from outgoing president Dr. Ajeet R. Singhvi at the 29th annual AAPI convention in New York on June 25, 2011—she became the second woman to lead the organization.

The healthcare summit in Hyderabad will highlight important health issues affecting communities in India and ways to improve healthcare for Indians. "The summit will focus on development and implementation of demonstration projects with specific and measurable outcomes. When proven successful, these projects can then be deployed both nationally and internationally," said Dr Kanumury. "We look forward to collaborating with leading healthcare providers in the U.S. and India to improve health outcomes and enhance each other's knowledge," she added. Attendees at the summit will include policy makers, physicians, international representatives, as well as members of the WHO.

Dr Kanumury attended the 4th Indo-US Healthcare Summit in Jaipur, and under her AAPI had its 5th healthcare summit in Hyderabad, January 2-4, 2012.

Dr Kanumury has served AAPI in various capacities and has rubbed shoulders with the organization's leading lights.

Dr Kanumury has worked closely with the Indian community to create awareness on health issues and under her AAPI published the second edition of its nutrition book

Still only halfway through her term, Dr Kanumury talked about her accomplishments as AAPI President to NRI Today, "We have been reaching out to areas in rural India for screening against cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular problems."

Another AAPI focus area, she said, has been "to acquaint and guide Indian medical graduates navigate their way around healthcare system in America." The Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) certification, she explained, is the standard for evaluating the qualifications of foreign physicians before they enter US graduate medical education (GME), where they provide supervised patient care, or take Step 3 of the three-step US Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) and to obtain an unrestricted license to practice medicine in the US.

She agreed that a year's term is a short period for any AAPI President to leave his or her stamp on the organization. "That is why I set myself goals I could achieve as Presdient," she said. She will hand over charge to Dr Narendra Kumar at AAPI's 30th annual convention in Long Beach, California, to be held from June 28 to July 1, 2012.

She herself received the gavel from outgoing president Dr. Ajeet R. Singhvi at the 29th annual AAPI convention in New York on June 25, 2011. It also signaled a change in the leadership of the largest ethnic medical organization in the US. Dr. Kanumury became the second woman president in the three decade long history of the organization, 12 years after Dr. Kalpalatha Guntupalli became its first woman president. Significantly, AAPI has been in a quandary to nurture women leaders and Dr. Kanumury's ascension may make a difference and chalk the future path for AAPI.

In her acceptance speech at the New York convention, Dr Kanumury elucidated how women are breaking the glass ceiling in medicine also in America. "I hope the next ceiling is the sky. When I was in medical school in India, 50 percent of my class was women. When I came to the US only 10 percent of the class was women. This has changed and now in almost every school 50 percent of the entering class is women. The largest growth has been among Asian women students."

She agrees that increasing AAPI membership and attracting the younger generation of doctors is an ongoing process, but from her own experience she said, "They want to be equally involved, and we have leadership courses for them to see get them involved."

She points to ‘AAPI connects' being her slogan: "We do not want that to be just words. I ask the young people to come forward. My doors are open to you at all times. AAPI has shaped my professional and personal goals to evolve as a leader and serve." Under her leadership AAPI had a Fall Legislative Day October 24. And in November AAPI signed the AMA (American Medical Association) Coalition Letter to Congress urging a full repeal of the Medicare sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula. "Congress has repeatedly punted the SGR problem down the road and physicians along with their patients cannot wait any longer for action," said Dr. Kanumury.

She is reticent about commenting on the merits or demerits of Obama's healthcare reform package for doctors or the public at large.

But she says AAPI works with AMA on long standing issues like medical malpractice liability for doctors.

Indian doctors practicing in America have earned a great reputation and get respect from patients for being patient, she says. Given the acute shortage of 200,000 doctors by year 2020, AAPI has been lobbying to allow more doctors from India and increasing the residency slots. She says the mushrooming medical schools in the Caribbean are not an answer nor are they a scam. "But their graduates will be hard put to compete with graduates from US schools for limited residency slots," she argues.

Dr Kanumury has been working closely with the Indian community here, "creating awareness on health, in relation to our proneness to chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes. We have published the second edition of the AAPI nutrition book in collaboration with dietitians," says she.

On Indian community affairs, Dr Kanumury said, "AAPI has been working together with community organizations like GOPIO (Global Organization of People of Indian Origin) and NFIA (National Federation of Indian Associations) on key issues like passport surrender fees".

Dr. Kanumury has served AAPI in various capacities such as Member, Board of Trustees; Regional Director, Mid-Atlantic AAPI (NJ, NY, PA); Chairman of Alumni Committee for AAPI Convention in 2007; Member, Benefits Committee and Ethics & Grievance Committee; Vice President & Founding Member, AAPI Northwest New Jersey; Member at large, Federation of AAPI (Tri-State). AAPI is a US registered non-profit organization that represents the interests of more than 75,000 physicians of Indian origin, who are practicing or training in the US. It also serves as an umbrella organization representing over 130 regional, alumni and specialty organizations across the US.

To keep fit and healthy herself, a petite Dr Kanumury hits the gym five days in a week and has been a keen tennis player (but not able to find time lately for the sport because of AAPI commitments). She is into gourmet cooking and eats healthy organic food. She also meditates, which must be contributing to her poise.

A leading allergist from New Jersey

An accomplished doctor, Dr. Sunita Kanumury is a Diplomate of the American Board of Allergy and Immunology. She is a practicing allergist in Morris, Essex, and Union Counties in New Jersey. Her special expertise is in asthma, drug allergy, eczema, food allergy hypersensitivity, nasal allergy rhinitis and sinus infection sinusitis.

She is a Fellow of the American College of Allergy and Immunology and a Member of the American Academy of Allergy and Immunology. She has affiliations with Morristown Memorial Hospital, St. Barnabas Hospital, St. Clares Hospital, St. James Hospital, and Hackettstown Regional Medical Center.

As President and Vice President of the National Association of Allergists and Immunologists from India she took the organization to the next level. The organization became part of ERT of American Academy of Allergy and Immunology. She has conducted Asthma Camps in India with the apex Indian Medical Association (IMA). During her presidency "Pollen" Book for India was published in collaboration with Indian Academy of Allergy and Immunology. Free nebulizers were provided to rural villages in India.

She is a Telugu born to parents from Andhra Pradesh in India. She did her medicine studies in Orissa. Currently she serves as the Vice President of Telugu Fine Arts Society of New Jersey and also as Past Trustee of Vasvi Society of New York and New Jersey.

In the past, she has supported several causes related to orphan children and destitute woman. Dr. Kanumury is on the Board of Utilization Management and Quality Management Committee of University Health Plans for the past three years and is a member of the board of directors for the Federation of Indian Associations (FIA).

In 1999, the National registry of Who's Who has appointed Dr. Kanumury as their life member. She was recognized by Consumer Research Council of America as one of the "America's Top Physicians of Allergy and Immunology."