Doctors from around the world care for Sanford patients

Internationally trained physicians help people of all cultures access health care

Doctors from around the world care for Sanford patients

Luis Garcia, M.D., the president of Sanford Health’s clinic division, arose from the poverty of his youth in Mexico City to become a surgeon and a leader whose upbringing provides a unique perspective in the world of medicine.

He is one of many physicians whose path to becoming a doctor started outside the country and has since led to Sanford, where they deliver vital contributions throughout the health care system.

Nationwide, about 1 in 5 active physicians were born and attended medical school outside the U.S. or Canada, according to the American Medical Association. And their numbers are growing. Since 2004, international medical graduates practicing in the U.S. have increased by more than 30%.

At Sanford Health, their presence strengthens care throughout the region.

From Mexico City to South Dakota’s largest city

Dr. Garcia is a prominent example. He has been with Sanford in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for more than 20 years. His time here is distinctive for what he has accomplished in those two decades much more than it is how long it has lasted.

As a doctor he specializes in general surgery and advanced laparoscopic and bariatric surgery. As president of the clinic division at Sanford, he oversees governance, recruitment and retention, well-being and development, and overall clinic integration for physicians and advanced practice providers.

“People ask me why I’ve stayed here, and I tell them it’s because these are great communities, these are great people,” Dr. Garcia said. “It doesn’t matter what you have, who you are or what your credentials are. It matters who you are as a person. Sanford has given me the opportunity not only to excel as a physician and as a leader but to live a life of helping others and elevating those in need and to having meaningful interactions with members of the community.”

The neighborhood where Dr. Garcia grew up is one of the poorest in Mexico City. Via a strong family with supportive parents, he was able to rise above significant obstacles. The memories will remain, however.

“It has become one of the most challenging and dangerous neighborhoods in the city,” Dr. Garcia said. “My father was a leadership figure in the community for a long time and he had the opportunity to start a small hospital that remains a very important hospital in that area.”

Dr. Garcia loved spending time there as a child, even in his words “if all I was doing was cleaning the bathrooms.” It led to a career in medicine that was initially boosted – and is now sustained – by values instilled in Mexico City.

“Growing up I was exposed to two different worlds,” Dr. Garcia said. “One was the world of poverty – all I had to do was look at my surroundings to understand what need looked like. On the flip side I was exposed to what success meant.”

From Sri Lanka to Sioux Falls

Thavam Thambi-Pillai, M.D., is a Sanford surgeon from Sri Lanka who specializes in transplant surgery. He has lived on four different continents on his way to Sioux Falls, where he serves as director of the surgical residency program.

He was a student of American history growing up – he read intently about the Founding Fathers, the Civil War and civil rights – and has since then grown to appreciate what that history means to him personally. Part of that appreciation involves his work with Sanford, which goes well beyond the region. With the support of the Sanford USD Medical Center, he recently performed the first living-donor kidney transplant in the northern part of Sri Lanka.

“My goal is to provide hope to my patients by providing state-of-the-art care to meet the needs of the rural population,” Dr. Thambi-Pillai said. “I chose Sanford Health because it is an integrated health system where it is easier to provide comprehensive coordinated care to our patients. I am passionate about global surgery and health. There are many similarities between rural health and global health. Both groups of patients live in austere environments.”

From Nepal and India to Minnesota

Hari Pokhrel, M.D., is a hospitalist in Bemidji, Minnesota, who grew up in Nepal and began his career in India. Limitations in practicing medicine there led him to seek out an opportunity with greater access to cutting-edge technology and research.

His experiences have given him valuable perspective and a high regard for the work he and others do on behalf of Sanford and the communities it serves.

“My diverse background and experiences in Nepal and India have enriched my understanding of different cultures and health care systems, helping me empathize with and support patients from various backgrounds,” Dr. Pokhrel said. “As a clinician I am constantly learning from my past and striving to provide the best possible care to my patients.”

From Belarus to Bemidji

Like Dr. Pokhrel, Eugene Aleksandrovich, M.D., is a hospitalist in Bemidji. After completing medical school in Minsk, Belarus, Dr. Aleksandrovich completed his residency in internal medicine at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Fargo.

Among the many reasons Dr. Aleksandrovich was attracted to a career in the United States was its diverse population, which gives providers a wide range of experiences and challenges. A great example of that is in Bemidji.

“The organization has a commitment to providing culturally sensitive and competent care to patients of all backgrounds,” Dr. Aleksandrovich said. “Sanford Health serves rural and urban communities, including Native American reservations, and has initiatives in place to address health disparities in these populations. The organization also provides interpretation and translation services to ensure that language barriers do not prevent patients from receiving high quality care.”

From India to North Dakota

When Sri Krishna Arudra, M.D., of Bismarck, North Dakota, is asked about why he came to the United States to practice medicine, he cites the words of Albert Einstein.

“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them,” Einstein wrote.

It inspired this dermatopathologist from Hyderabad, India, to pursue the best scientific and medical education possible. That led him to the United States and eventually to Bismarck and Sanford.

“I always wanted to work at a place where I could make a difference and my words carried value,” Dr. Arudra said.

Plus, in his son Rishi’s words, “This place (Bismarck) has a nice vibe, Dad.”

“I was touched by North Dakota’s niceness when the physician recruiter spent time with my family at the zoo while I was interviewing,” Dr. Arudra said. “Sanford’s commitment to quality patient care and my resolve to be a part of a physician-led organization solidified my decision to become part of the Sanford family. I’m proud to call Bismarck my second home, after Hyderabad.”

Dinesh Bande, M.D., came to this country to get a master’s degree in health care administration and public health after going to medical school in his native India. His original intent was to take what he learned back to his home but during that process he fell in love with his surroundings in the United States.

That led to his residency in internal medicine at the University of North Dakota. He joined Sanford Health as a hospitalist at Sanford Medical Center Fargo and continues to enjoy what he calls the “ability to pursue one’s dream and the freedom to do so.”

“I have been blessed with opportunities to make a difference in the communities we serve through my work in health care administration and medical education,” Dr. Bande said. “Sanford Health’s vision for patient care, research, medical education is phenomenal.”

Here for all, here for good

That vision was abundantly apparent during the most difficult days of the pandemic. It was an example of teamwork and collaboration that left an indelible impression.

“The way we all came together as a family to navigate one of the most difficult times that heath care has ever faced was inspiring,” Dr. Bande said. “Despite these challenges we remained steadfast and focused on the things that mattered most, like patient safety. We now have a bolder and broader vision for reducing disparities in our rural communities through technology and beyond.”

It is that spirit of cooperation that international physicians brought with them to the United States. It is also what keeps them here.

When Dr. Garcia talks of growing up in Mexico City midst challenging conditions, he makes parallels between the support of his mother and father and the support of the Sanford Health system he has been deeply engaged in for two decades. Ultimately, it’s about caring.

“No matter where you’re at, whether you are getting cared for at a tertiary facility or you’re in the most rural remote setting, we’re there for you,” Dr. Garcia said. “We’re committed to you. We have made a promise to bring the best health care to your doorstep.”

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Posted In Bemidji, Bismarck, Fargo, Here for all. Here for good., Inclusion at Sanford, Physicians and APPs, Sioux Falls