Jayant Rao, MD, FACEP

Jayant Rao, MD, FACEP

FMA Member Physician highlight

Pursuing a Passion for Wellness
By Rosanne Dunkelberger, Contributing Writer

After 11 years practicing as an emergency medicine physician, FMA Board of Governors member Jayant Rao, MD, FACEP, says his work at Baycare’s St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa has been very rewarding and that acute care in the U.S. is second-to-none. But throughout his medical career, he has been troubled by a different type of patient that comes through the emergency room doors.

“When someone comes in injured … or they have a stroke or heart attack … we've got a very clear pathway for those people,” Dr. Rao explained. “But if you follow me around for one day, you'll see how many people come in with vague or chronic complaints, substance abuse, chronic pain, mental health issues, or poorly controlled chronic diseases. Other than ordering some expensive tests and trying to reassure them that they aren’t suffering from an emergent condition, there’s not much I can do for them. And many of them come back again and again, and it can be very frustrating and unsatisfying for both the patient and the physician.”

And so, at age 43 and in the prime of his career, Dr. Rao is resigning from his partnership in Excelis Medical Associates — an 85-physician practice — and dialing back his hospital-based work to part time in order to pursue his passion for wellness while maintaining his hard-earned ER skillset.

He envisions a different sort of career “teaching people how to be well” through speaking, writing, coaching, and leading retreats — and that includes healthcare professionals.

“Burnout is epidemic in medicine right now. Providers are leaving the field in droves and COVID has even made that more significant,” Dr. Rao said. “And the focus for a lot of the burnout literature has been this concept of ‘resiliency’ — teaching doctors how to cope with more stress. But that’s missing the forest for the trees. What’s driving the burnout epidemic is not a lack of coping skills but a loss of meaning and human connection. A system that prioritizes money and metrics over patients and providers.”

Dr. Rao comes from a multicultural “medical family.” His Hindu Indian father is a retired neonatologist. His Jewish mother was born in Cuba to Polish and Romanian parents and worked as an ER nurse. His sister is an internist. This unique background has made him open to Eastern practices that are recently gaining more and more traction in the U.S. “Many of these ideas and practices have been around for thousands of years and there is a growing body of literature demonstrating their value especially in the treatment of chronic illness and mental health issues,” he said.

In addition to serving on the FMA Board, Dr. Rao was President of the Hillsborough County Medical Association from 2019 to 2020, during the start of the pandemic. He credits much of his involvement in organized medicine to the FMA’s Karl M. Altenburger, MD Physician Leadership Academy program, which he completed in 2013, and leadership training provided by the Florida College of Emergency Physicians in 2014.

“It takes a special person to use their spare time to advocate for their patients and fellow physicians through organized medicine. I've met some phenomenal human beings in the FMA and I’m extraordinarily grateful for all the professional development and mentorship that I've gotten there,” he said. “I've learned how our government really works, how to speak to politicians and advocate for important issues, and I’ve gotten to connect with leaders throughout the state and the nation.”

“It’s been a challenging year,” Dr. Rao admitted. “There's been a lot going on, but I’m truly inspired and excited to move into this next chapter of my career and see what we might be able to accomplish when we combine the best aspects of Western medicine with the ancient wisdom of the East.”