By Contributing Writer - March 10, 2021
Asha Ramsakal, DO, MBS, FACP, is department chair of Internal and Hospital Medicine at Moffitt Cancer Center. She leads a team of academic oncologic internal medicine and infectious disease physicians who have expertise in managing acute, chronic and post-cancer-related medical comorbidities. The department provides a spectrum of care, including ambulatory internal medicine, urgent care, inpatient care, cardio-oncology, nephro-oncology and survivorship. The department is also responsible for the management of cancer patients who require inpatient care for COVID-19 infection. Her department works closely with the University of South Florida, collaborating with all the medical subspecialties, such as pulmonology, nephrology, cardiology and endocrinology. The Department of Medicine provides 100% didactic resident education of the USF internal medicine residents at Moffitt.
What has been your department’s involvement with the COVID-19 pandemic?
My department takes care of more than 90% of the symptomatic COVID-19 positive patients who require inpatient care. I’m very proud of my faculty and the advanced practice providers who manage these patients, with, of course, the entire Moffitt multidisciplinary team involving our department, as well as infectious disease, pulmonary critical care, pharmacists and others.
Is there a certain person who was especially helpful in making you feel a part of Moffitt?
Oh, definitely. I would have to say Dr. Doug Letson because he was the one who trusted me enough to offer me the position of chair of Internal and Hospital Medicine. It meant a lot to me that he valued my skillsets sufficiently to appoint me to this role.
Do you have a specific memory at Moffitt in which you especially experienced inclusion, and what did it mean for you?
Yes, I would have to say it was at a Moffitt Medical Group executive chair meeting that I realized that I was the only female of Indian descent. We were seated at this huge, beautiful oval table in the trustee boardroom, and I felt included because I was treated as an equal with equal access to resources and given an equal voice. Me! Who when in elementary school in the island of Trinidad walked to school barefoot! It was so surreal and mind-blowing for me, and I remember sharing that experience with my family.
When did you know that you were going to go into medicine?
I was about 5 years old in Trinidad and they brought in a flight attendant to tell us little kindergartners about her job description, and then we were asked what we all wanted to be. And, of course, all the girls wanted to be flight attendants — except for me. I had little abrasions on my feet, some little infections from walking to school barefoot, and all I could think about was, “Nope, I want to be a doctor because I want to take care of not only my illnesses, but also those of other people.” I wanted a job where I could use my brain NOT my feet! And that was it. I never left the country until I was 18 years old. I attended college in Trinidad and then went to medical school in the United States.
Do you feel it’s beneficial for women in medicine and research to have male allies?
We have to. Otherwise, we won’t be successful. One-third of the practicing physicians in the United States are women. So, we have to work with twice as many men as there are women. In order to succeed we must be able to collaborate with our male colleagues. That applies to the success of the institution as well, not just us as women faculty, but also in a broader sense.
"We have to treat each other like family, regardless of our backgrounds. We all originate from diverse backgrounds...."- Dr. Asha Ramsakal
When it comes to women making decisions, in your opinion, what are factors that women might be more likely to consider than men?
Nobody’s perfect, right? And no one person knows everything, but I strongly believe that one of the characteristics of a great leader is to use other resources to supplement the deficiencies in yourself. So always bring together a multidisciplinary team in areas that you need assistance and include and listen to the contributions of all those team members that you bring together in making a final decision. I don’t want to say anything negative about men, but I feel women can maybe accept their deficiencies and figure out ways to supplement them more readily than our male counterparts. Accepting your deficiencies and supplementing them is synonymous with your growth as a leader.
What is the best career advice that you have received?
It wasn’t direct verbal advice focused on what to do to improve, to advance my career. It was more like me observing great leaders and their qualities. The qualities I saw that I have tried to emulate are to always put the institution above self, to lead by example, use soft tones and to be a good listener. Also, if you don’t agree with your leaders to always be willing to figure out how you can accomplish the tasks that are asked of you, working with a multidisciplinary team, rather than responding with reasons why something cannot be done.
What do you like to do to rewind or recharge?
In order to rewind I start with a blank slate in my mind, and I build on that, and it has nothing to do with work. It may involve creating an imaginary, detailed picture (down to every color and pattern) of how I plan to decorate a birthday cake for my grandsons. I also enjoy listening to Indian music during my long trek back and forth for my work commute.
What small acts could a faculty member do every day or regularly to help promote equity within the workplace?
We have to treat each other like family, regardless of our backgrounds. We all originate from diverse backgrounds, and we’re all different in appearance and in demographics. I always tell my team members that we’re a family. We spend more time with each other than we do with our biologic families. We always have to consider the opinions of all team members, respect their knowledge and not only listen to but also include their concerns when we’re making final decisions on the best route to take in implementing changes to our department as a whole. My philosophy in decision-making is the democratic approach in the Department of Medicine; team members are more likely to embrace changes if they feel they have ownership and input to those changes.