Dr. Anitha Rao attended Maumee Valley from grade 7 through 12 and returned to campus as this year’s graduation speaker. She likes to stream her music, and depending on her mood, she listens to anything from Tango to Electronica and also likes to meditate to binaural beats. Meanwhile, she is the CEO and Founder of Neurocern, a Chicago-based clinical analytics company that supports family caregivers to improve the longevity and quality of life for patients with dementia and other neurological conditions worldwide.
“Socrates said, ‘Wisdom begins in wonder.’ Maumee Valley has always encouraged students to think outside the box. This approach has significantly impacted how I’ve led my journey from medicine into entrepreneurship. Maumee Valley is a community of lifelong learners who ask bold questions and are always ‘coloring outside the lines.’ It is here that I was taught to value my creativity and to always push the envelope.”
With a unique blend of Neuroscience and Entrepreneurship, Dr. Rao’s unique, non-traditional, and creative “outside of the box” path is a clear example of Maumee Valley’s ability to create multi-dimensional thinkers. After graduating from Lehigh University and the University of Toledo College of Medicine, Dr. Rao decided to further her education by pursuing a Masters in Medical Anthropology, a decision not necessarily accepted by her peers.
“My colleagues and professors in medical school thought it was unusual for a medical student to want to pursue higher education in Anthropology, but I felt drawn to this field and knew that I wanted to work on health policy and macro-economics.”
While studying Medical Anthropology at Case Western Reserve University, Dr. Rao learned that medical conditions like dementia were projected to be the number one cost to economies worldwide by 2025, thus began a blooming interest in Neuroscience and complex neurological disorders. Not only was Rao fascinated by the economics and science of the subject, but she also found a huge need for specialized physicians.
“Between the global need for physicians who specialize in dementia and my love for Oliver Sacks books (which I was introduced to during English class Sophomore year at MV, thanks to Jenny Barthold!), I knew that I wanted to be a neurologist. I completed my neurology residency training at Case Western Reserve University. There I met hundreds of patients and families who were experiencing complex neurological
conditions that often had little or no cure--ALS, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, and dementia were just some of the types of conditions patients faced who I saw in my clinic and the hospital. I was inspired by my patients who would tell me that they wished they had taken more chances in life.”
Dr. Rao could have stopped there; however, again, she was drawn to ask further questions and dig deeper by sub-special[izing] in Alzheimer’s and dementia at a top three globally ranked neurology program at the University of California in San Francisco. She attributes having carved a niche for herself as a physician entrepreneur by asking a lot of questions with curiosity leading her down a windy path from academic medicine, to pitching to Silicon Valley investors, to now negotiating with Fortune 500 companies.
In California, Dr. Rao was again faced with desperate clients coming to her clinic “as a last resort for expert clinical care.” She discusses the scarcity of dementia specialized physicians by giving this shocking statistic and personal anecdote: “There are 600 dementia neurologists like myself, and 10M patients with dementia in the US. My wait time was nine months long. Every patient I met had a unique story and needed very specialized care.” She decided to do something about this issue.
To meet the global needs of dementia expert care, Dr. Rao realized that she would have to build a technology platform that would use the knowledge of other dementia neurologists. Currently the CEO and Founder of Neurocern, a Chicago-based clinical analytics company that supports family caregivers in order to improve the longevity and quality of life for patients with dementia and other neurological conditions worldwide, Dr. Rao’s company has been highlighted by Forbes magazine, and her research has been showcased by the Society of Actuaries and the Alzheimer’s Association.
“Although I was discouraged from trying non-traditional paths often in my life, Maumee Valley’s foundational teachings to honor one’s passions allowed me to take a path less traveled despite the naysayers.”
Maumee Valley is known for its incredible diversity and inclusion. Born in Chennai, India, Dr. Rao reflects on how her culture helps not only her mindset but her career. Her family came to the United States when she was just a baby; however, English was her third language.
“Spending numerous summers in India [visiting extended family] helped me see the world as a bigger place than just the city of Toledo. As a youngster, my parents always encouraged travel. Every winter break or long weekend involved a passport. Learning and experiencing other cultures allowed me to be a more empathetic physician, too; in fact, during rounds, I had a special skill to communicate with patients who had recently lost the ability to speak because of a stroke. By using body language and facial expression, I was often able to synthesize what my patients were trying to tell me.”
As the CEO of a company, Dr. Rao often uses her global-mindset to think critically about her company’s go-to-market strategy and communicates business models that address access to care issues for clients in different countries. She is working on a project this year to highlight the shortages of neurologists worldwide and how this will impact the growing aging population.
“Winterim in high school was a special experience that allowed me to pursue interests that would not be offered by a traditional high school curriculum. I am a big fan of personal downtime to allow the creative mind to unfold.”
As a student, Dr. Rao opted for experiences that allowed her to explore matters outside of the classroom, such as ballet classes on New York City’s Broadway, teaching science to first graders in Toledo, and even spending time with a PR firm.
“I was shy in high school and found my creative strengths later in life. I encourage graduates to embrace uncertainty in life. So often, we go to the ‘safe zone,’ but it’s when we are the most uncomfortable, and the most vulnerable, that we learn the most about ourselves.”