In the heart of downtown Austin, Texas, pulled back slightly from the hustle of the busy street, stands a small improv theater aptly named The Hideout Theatre. Sunaina spent a few hours a week studying improv here. It didn’t take long for her to begin performing regularly on stage as an improviser, volunteering as an assistant teacher for the neurodiverse improvisational classes catering to adolescents on the Autism spectrum, as well as co-leading improv classes for homeless youth — all while completing her clinical years of medical school. Experiences like these enriched Sunaina’s medical education and strengthened values she holds most important in her role as a servant leader: clear communication, building strong relationships, collaborative problem solving, and a sense of humor.
Sunaina has taken several nontraditional approaches to medical education. While an undergraduate at Austin College, she studied Traditional Chinese Medicine at the Yunnan Provincial Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Kunming, Yunnan Province, China. Here, she learned the importance of whole body wellness and the benefits of herbal medicine, acupuncture, and massage therapy as an adjunct to modern medicine. Studying traditional Chinese medicine allowed her to better understand the social and cultural impacts of wellness and benefits of collaborative care. An avid explorer, Sunaina feels physicians must be global citizens, studying other cultures to build bridges for understanding and perspective. She was therefore honored with a Global Outreach Fellowship in 2010 to study rural medicine in Ayacucho, Peru. Working in Ayacucho highlighted the benefits and challenges of a universal healthcare system. Making house calls to new mothers, distributing prenatal vitamins, and providing breastfeeding education—sometimes while hiking to high altitudes with coolers of vaccinations to administer to children high in the Andes Mountains—taught Sunaina new ways of educating physician-averse populations and the importance of unconditional compassion.
A healthcare advocacy elective during her fourth year of medical school at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine further enhanced Sunaina’s passion for advocacy. She met with the Texas Pediatric Society Advocate, state mental health advocates, and social workers at The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health to discuss therapeutic options for children in Texas with special needs and found a statewide lack of opportunities for unconventional therapies and few academic studies on improvisational theater as a therapeutic tool for neurodiverse children. Sunaina therefore extended her fourth year of medical school to more fully invest herself in teaching at The Hideout. She also became a certified yoga instructor through Dharma Yoga Studio in Austin to further her commitment to comprehensive wellness: mind, body, and spirit.
Building strong relationships, collaborative problem solving, and servant leadership are at the heart of Sunaina’s passion to train as a pediatrician at the OU-Tulsa School of Community Medicine. She is excited to flourish in a program that values her compassion, enthusiasm, and unending passion for innovation. She hopes her journey finds her able to combine her many experiences together. Whatever that journey entails, it will surely be interesting—and definitely nontraditional.