BY THE AGE OF 18, Trishanna Sookdeo, MD, MPH decided she wanted to pursue a career in medicine or science. Luckily for the citizens of Polk County, she chose the former. She joined the staff at Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center a year ago, and couldn’t be happier.
“I love it,” says Dr. Sookdeo. “Florida reminds me of Trinidad. People are so warm and friendly.” Dr. Sookdeo was born and raised on the Caribbean island, and attended medical school at the University of the West Indies, where she met her husband, Dr. Shiva Seetahal. She was the first in her family to go into medicine, and Dr. Sookdeo credits her mother, and her desire to make her mother proud, as her main motivation.
After receiving her Masters in Public Heath at Capella University, doing her residency in Family Medicine at Howard University, and working in Atlanta, Dr. Sookdeo came to Davenport with her husband and has been raising her own family while taking care of patient families.
“People who like a little of everything succeed at family medicine,” observes Dr. Sookdeo. “You have to feel it from the inside.” Initially, Dr. Sookdeo didn’t know she would choose family medicine, but while in training she found she enjoyed doing a little of it all — pediatrics, gynecology, community health. She enjoyed everything except being in the operating room. She wasn’t a fan of performing surgery and the cold room it was performed in. But when it’s right, it’s right. “When you walk in the office and you’re sitting with patients and everything feels like it’s flowing naturally, I think that’s when you know you’ve met your calling.”
Dr. Sookdeo’s calling goes way beyond 40 hours a week in an office. “I take the job home, taking patients home with me in my mind. It isn’t just a job; it becomes part of you.” A physician must understand family dynamics, a patient’s environment, social history, occupational history, and background. But having so much information treating an entire family as opposed to an individual does make her job a bit easier sometimes. A physician still must be able to identify her strengths and weaknesses, and then work on and improve those weaknesses. But Dr. Sookdeo’s biggest challenge is often finding specialists locally for her patients. She doesn’t have all the answers, and sometimes she needs to reach out.
All patients are not created equal and while some maybe open and forthcoming about their lifestyle, other patients may not want to share their dirty laundry. Dr. Sookdeo approaches her patients like her three sons Ethan, Caleb, and Jonah — ages seven, four, and two. She tells her patients they should tell the truth, and then she encourages them when they do. If they’re engaging in negative behavior like smoking, she tells them to keep a journal and jot down when or why they smoked so they can work through it. So the patient makes final decision of what to say. The most important thing a doctor can do is build trust, and Dr. Sookdeo says this takes time. “Give it three to six months to build a relationship.”
As Dr. Sookdeo looks to the future of family medicine, she expects there will be more corroboration between patients and doctors, and an increase in use of telemedicine to facilitate busy patient schedules. She adds that there will be greater communication between patients, primary care physicians, specialists, and facilities, which can only lead to better care and healthier patients.
story by BONNY JOHNSON
photo by PEZZIMENTI