Anirudh Rai, MD, fell in love with music at an early age. Growing up in Los Angeles, Rai played piano, violin, cello, and viola. Always eager to try something new, he played in orchestras and performed for his church congregation. He picked up a guitar and joined a band. But, while earning his bachelor’s degree at California State University Northridge, Rai’s curiosity led him into medicine and a whole new world.
Rai found parallels between music and medicine: a similar feeling of uncertainty, limitless possibilities, and an ever-evolving nature. “There are so many things in your body that we take for granted,” he said. “I could go on and on about how incredible the human body is.”
Rai began volunteering at a renal clinic that was researching new pharmaceutical technologies. Before long the center hired him as its clinical research coordinator, while he took anatomy, physiology, and other pre-med coursework.
After college, he moved to Grenada where he enrolled in St. George’s University School of Medicine. When the time came to pick a specialty, family medicine stood out as an obvious choice for a student who didn’t want to limit himself. “You have to know pretty much everything about every patient instead of focusing on one aspect,” said Rai. “To me, that was pretty attractive.”
With medical school graduation approaching, Rai began searching for residency programs in family medicine. He also looked for communities where the number of physicians per capita were lowest. “You have to be in a place of need,” said Rai. “Physicians go to people who are sick, right? Not people who are healthy.” His online search brought him to Open Door’s website, which piqued his interest and impressed him enough to apply.
He spent the interview season bouncing between health centers, mostly across California. As exhausting as the process was, it helped him rank his choices. “When I was interviewing for other programs, they were well-polished, well-established, yet at the same time there was a lack of care,” he said. “When I came to Open Door, it was more nurturing. I felt that they actually wanted us to thrive.”
Still, Rai had his doubts about committing to Open Door’s residency, a program in its first year. During his visit, he took some time to chat with locals at coffee shops and a homeless shelter. He was surprised by how welcoming everyone was, and that they both knew of the new program and were thrilled about it. The enthusiasm drew him in—as did meeting the program staff and witnessing their dedication and ambition. When he learned he had matched with Open Door’s residency, he was excited by the opportunity to mean something to this community and learn from our staff. “We’re going to get a huge amount of information from them—from people who actually want to teach,” he said.
The first year of Open Door’s three-year family medicine residency program began in July. Now, much as he practices his viola, Rai practices medicine and hones his skills.
While he is adapting to a quieter, slower pace of life, where towering redwoods take the place of skyscrapers, Rai also hopes to reintegrate music into his busy schedule. “I don’t want to make a commitment that I know I won’t keep, but I’m definitely looking around,” said Rai. “The music community here is pretty strong though, so I don’t know if I can compete.”
Open Door is happy to have Rai among its inaugural cohort of family medicine residents. He will no doubt play an instrumental role in providing quality health care to our community. And maybe one day, we will see him perform in the Humboldt Symphony Orchestra, alongside other members of Open Door’s staff.