Doctor, Indian Classical Dancer, Professor, Educator, New York City
The main goal of the WOW WOMAN project has been showing women as multifaceted and complex beings, capable of defying stereotypes and labels. Poonam is a perfect embodiment of a multidimensional powerhouse, who is as comfortable performing on stage with the Indian classical dance troupe, as she is making life-and-death decisions at the emergency room of the New York's trauma hospital; whether she is practicing yoga in the park, or kicking butt at Barry's bootcamp. Poonam's passion of promoting healthy lifestyle seems to resonate with her large following on social media. Her audience of mainly med students and other doctors seems to also agree with her overall message of prioritizing fitness, wellness and self-care above all.
"My family came to US with a few dollars and one big dream! My parents worked at a gas station and a motel to feed us and put us through school. I am their success story."
One of the things that also drew me to Poonam has been her honesty about her past and immigrant parents. From very humble beginnings this lovely woman has persevered and is now making her family proud by demonstrating what it's like to be a good human, striving for a healthy mind, body, and soul.
Dr. Poonam Desai.
2. Where is your hometown?
3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?
Emergency Medicine Physician, Assistant Professor, Weill Cornell Medicine School, Emergency Medicine Ultrasound Director, Dancer.
4. What was the journey like to get where you are (in life and career-wise)? What are some accomplishments you’re most proud of, and what was the turning point to set you on a current path in life?
I'm from an immigrant family who came to the United States with a few dollars in their pocket. In my immediate family on both maternal and paternal sides, I am one of the first generations to have obtained a professional degree. Coming from a family that at many times felt helpless moving to a foreign country, I at a very early age had decided I wanted to pursue a career where I can help people. I was determined on the destination but the path was self drawn. My parent were very supportive, however a lot of their mental, emotional, financial resources were occupied by providing day to day for our family. They did their best in creating an atmosphere where I could focus on achieving a higher education. They left their home, country and families to help me achieve the 'American Dream' and I knew at a very young age I was not going to disappoint them.
I am most proud of what I represent for my family: their dream, their efforts, their hard work. My mom wanted me to have a balanced life and I am so proud to say that I genuinely feel like I have achieved a good balance. I can't take care of my patients if I can't take care of myself, so I try to incorporate fitness and wellness into my busy work life.
"I cant possibly be taking care of others if I can’t take care of myself. I am responsible for my own well being. If I don’t make investing in myself a priority, no one else will. "
As far as my professional life is concerned.. I am proud to say that I wear a lot of hats at work! I am an emergency room doctor working at a level one trauma center in Queens, NY. My hospital is an academic hospital, which means I get to teach medical students, residents and physician assistants. I did an emergency ultrasound fellowship and I currently am the head of the ultrasound department at our hospital. I also spend some time doing research at our institution.
I came to the east coast from LA and had a huge culture shock! Everyone moved fast and was here with a purpose. I was inspired by the city, encouraged by the people, and motivated by the desire to just keep up! I'm proud to work in one of the most diverse cities in the world, most adrenaline-heavy work places, with people at their most vulnerable states. What gets me through every single shift is the feeling that I actually made a difference, and helped someone feel better. That is it. IT MAKES ALL THE HARD WORK WORTH IT!
5. What did you study in school?
I attended UCLA where I got a BS in Psychobiology. I then attended medical school at Western University of Health Sciences where I obtained a degree in Doctor of Osteopathy.
6. How is your life different from what you pictured at 20?
Professionally, I exceeded my expectations. Personally, I pictured myself married with kids by now. However, I surprised myself by becoming an independent woman doing what I love doing in an intimidating city like New York. I stopped focusing on what I should have and focused on how proud I am of what I do have.
7. What was your biggest disappointment and plan to overcome it?
My biggest disappointment so far is that I have many aspirations of starting my own business but have not had time to do so yet. My plan is to keep telling myself, it is never too late.
8. Advice for other women?
Be confident and never let someone tell you that you can't do something. Many of my teachers and counselors told me my dream of becoming a physician may not be achievable and I should find another career path. I never let anyone else ever stop me of achieving my goals.
9. Knowing what we know now in current political climate, can women be "all that we can be" in today's world? What is the way forward, as you see it for "feminist values"?
I do think women can attempt to be all they want to be. Today we (women) have so many supporters who are advocating for our equality. We are lucky to be alive in a time and place where we can hope and even achieve equality. The way forward is for us women to support and empower each other. We must show the world when we unite forces how much we can achieve.
10. Where in the world do you feel “tallest” (i.e. where is your happy place)?
I'm in my happy place when I'm dancing. I trained in Indian Classical dancing and spent a large part of my life professionally performing.
11. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why?
Dancing and fitness. No matter how busy I get in pursuit of my career goals, I never stopped dancing. It has always been my happy place. I am still performing and in fact I just had a recent performance with the Sa Dance Company at the majestic Lincoln Center in NYC. I also try to go to the gym and workout 5-6 times a week. I am a firm believer that taking care of other people starts with taking care of yourself.
12. What do you want to be when you grow up? Future goals/challenges?
Haha grow up?! Sometimes I feel so old. I want to start my own business. I also want to continue living a healthy, happy and balanced life.
13. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?
My fear involves running out of time to do everything I want to do in my life.
14. Anything you'd do differently if you had another go at life?
I would worry less about what others thought and spend more time overcoming my own fears. I would be less scared of failure and be more fearful of not trying at all.
15. What inspires you?
My family: their dreams and hopes for me. My present: everyone around me. My future: If I put my mind to do it, there is so much I can do to help change the world for the better.
16. What are you hopeful about?
A healthier, happier place for everyone.
17. What are some ingredients to a good life?
Being able to see the positive in everything.
18. What advice would you give your 14-year-old self?
Do not worry about what others will think or say, do what you think is right and best!
19. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)
Ahhhh, I haven't read much recently. I spend a lot of team reading to keep up to date in medicine.
20. Who is a WOW Woman in your world who inspires you and why? Can you nominate three women you know who perfectly fit WOW WOMAN description?
My Mom: When I think "wow life is hard..this is tough?" I think about my family. My family who came to this country with no education, no money, no family, no friends, no support, no direction. They came to an unfamiliar country and culture, and could barely speak the language. All they had were a dream and determination to make it work. My mom set a great example for me of what it meant to be an independent woman.
My grandma: She is a feminist! She may not know it, but she is. She grew up in a culture where women were not considered equal to men. When I was younger she continuously stressed to me the importance of being independent, of creating a path for myself where I have the freedom to do what I want to do. I realise that this is something a lot of women in many other countries still do not have.
My Aunt: We come from a culture and society that believes women's true happiness lies in being married and having children. Aunt Radha defied all the societal expectations and created a journey, a path of her own. She is constantly challenging her family, society and her culture by helping them realize happiness is not defined by a woman status as married but it comes from within.
21. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?.
I'm on instagram @DoctorandDancer