WASHINGTON D.C. — Dr. Amit H. Sachdev, an interventional gastroenterologist, who’s in his mid-30s, is the only Indian-American among 15 White House Fellows selected to the 2019-2020 Class of this prestigious program, the White House announced on Oct. 28.
The Birmingham, Alabama- born, and upstate New York-raised Sachdev, who hails from a family of physicians and is an endobariatrics subspecialist focused on developing novel approaches to fight obesity, already placed at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), told India Abroad that he’s working directly with HHS Secretary Alex Azar and finding his work “very exciting, and what I hope to do is to bring my medical knowledge and expertise to the table in ways to really help improve the health care system from a medical perspective.”
In announcing its class for 2019-2020, the President’s Commission on White House Fellows described the highly regarded program as providing “professionals from diverse backgrounds an opportunity to engage in public service for one year by serving in various roles in the federal government.”
Created in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, it said the program was designed “to give the fellows first-hand, high-level experience with the workings of the federal government and to increase their sense of participation in national affairs.
“The fellowship was created as a non-partisan program and has maintained this tradition throughout both Republican and Democratic administrations,” the commission said, and added, “The mission of the White House Fellows Program is to encourage active citizenship and service to the nation.”
It said that “throughout the year, fellows actively participate in an education program that expands their knowledge of leadership, policy-making, and contemporary issues. Community service plays a vital role in the program, and Fellows take part in service projects throughout the year.
“The highly competitive selection process to become a White House Fellow is based on a record of professional accomplishment, evidence of leadership skills, the potential for further growth, and a commitment to service. Selected individuals spend a year working as a full-time, paid fellow to senior White House staff, cabinet secretaries, and other top-ranking government officials.”
Sachdev, who completed his training at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, according to the White House, “is focused on developing novel approaches to fight obesity, transforming healthcare delivery, and is passionate about healthcare innovation. Amit has led large-scale social media campaigns, and he has won numerous awards for his community outreach initiatives and research.
“His work has been published in peer-reviewed literature and presented both nationally and internationally. He has worked in large, diverse clinical settings, including Bellevue, Kings County, and Los Angeles County hospitals,” it said, and added, “His clinical experience at leading academic centers including the New York University, Columbia University-New York Presbyterian, Harvard University, and several veterans’ hospitals has informed his unique perspective of the health system.”
At the Rockefeller University,” the White House pointed out, “Amit had the privilege of studying cell signaling with Dr. Gunter Blobel, winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine,” and lauded his commitment “to serving the underserved and has volunteered in many international settings, including missions in Tanzania and India.”
It also noted that Sachdev has “also provided strategic direction to several healthcare start-ups.”
In the interview, Sachdev, a Presidential Honors Scholar, who earned both his bachelor’s degree with Honors in Economics as well as his medical degree from New York University, acknowledged how competitive the process was and said that he went through several interviews. “There’s a local interview, there’s a national interview I did in D.C., but that involved 30 people who interviewed us. And, so, it was pretty competitive.”
He said that “as one of the most experienced people medical-wise, having worked in medicine for so many years, in so many different centers, so many different cities, so many different hospitals, and also so many different environments, and so, I believe that a really great asset I can bring to the table.”
Sachdev said both his parents, Drs. A.J. Sachdev and Yogi Sachdev, who hail from New Delhi, are physicians, and so are his two older sisters — one a cardiologist and the other a radiologist, whose husbands are also physicians.
While in the past two decades, there have been a dozen or so Indian-American White House Fellows, including physicians Drs. Rajeev Venkayya (Class of 2002) and Dr. Kapil Parakh (Class of 2013) and Brig. Gen. Balan Ayyar (Class of 2002), who at the time was the Commanding General, Combined Joint Interagency Task Force 434 in Kabul, Afghanistan. But perhaps the most high profile Indian-American White House Fellow alumnus is Dr. Sanjay Gupta (Class of 1997), today CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent.
At the time of his fellowship, Gupta, a young neurosurgeon, who was profiled by India Abroad, was assigned to the White House to work in the office of then First Lady Hillary Clinton, primarily as an adviser, helping her to write speeches on medicine and health care reform.
During his fellowship, at a White House Fellows alumni party, Gupta interacted with then CNN president Tom Johnson (Class of 1965), and even though never having been a journalist, broached the idea of CNN doing medical reports and analyses and features, and Johnson, impressed with Gupta’s enthusiasm and credentials, decided to give it a shot, and the rest — as they say — is history.
Gupta, besides working for CNN, continues to practice medicine, and serves as associate chief of the neurosurgery service at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, and as assistant professor of neurosurgery at the Emory University School of Medicine.