Interview with Arpana Vidyarthi

A Conversation with Arpana Vidyarthi, Professor

Welcome back to DHM, Arpana! Share a little more about yourself.

I grew up in Duluth, Minnesota, a small town on Lake Superior in northern Minnesota with two older brothers. My family still lives in Minnesota, and my girls and I spend most summers there visiting family and spending time outside. My extended family is all in northern India, and I spent much of my youth visiting family and traveling through India. Although I didn't know my paternal grandfather as he died when I was young, I like to think I am most like him. He was a revolutionary—for example he changed our last name from one that identified our caste to a term that means "student" (he was a teacher) as a gesture to reduce the inequities inherent to the caste system.

Arpana with familyI met my husband Rajiv while I was in residency in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and he was in graduate school. We moved to San Francisco right after we were married (gulp, 20 years ago!). We have two fantastic daughters Anaiya (age 15) and Nika (age 13) who have grown up between San Francisco, Singapore, and Minnesota, but we consider San Francisco home (I think!).

Arpana Vidyarthi

You've been overseas for quite some time. What originally got you interested in your current field of work?

I came to UCSF in 2011 as Hospital Medicine was just emerging as a specialty. Arpana giving a talkI loved teaching on the wards, taking care of complex clinical issues, and improving systems—so it was a great fit. I also liked that I was part of something new and emerging—the possibilities were endless, and, in some ways, we were creating the future right there in the U-building! It was a very exciting time in the field, and in my career. After working in quality improvement and safety for the early part of my career, I realized that in order to improve systems, I needed to better understand people. I started delving into the fields of leadership development, executive coaching, and organizational psychology through faculty development courses, and ultimately pursuing a master's degree. Hospital Medicine provided me with a wide berth to be able to explore—and I continue to do it, which has made for a very interesting ride!

Looking back, I would give myself two pieces of advice:

  1. Slow down and breathe—sometimes going slowly and deliberately gets you to where you want to be quicker and better.
  2. You have to get into shape to play sport; you can't play sport to get into shape—I have two knee surgeries to show that I still haven't learned that lesson!

How do you handle stress? Is there an activity that instantly calms you?

Tennis. When I am hitting the ball on the court, it is one of the only times that I really get away from everything—it is about me, the ball, the bounce, the rhythm, the breath. Whacking the ball really hard helps, too!

Vidyarthi family vacationTravel—I am at my best and most relaxed when I am on the road, figuring things out in a different country managing a new currency and experiencing absolute adventure. I am an aging backpacker, still drawn to the off-the-beaten path dive shops, outdoor music spots, and buying the crap in the night market or from beach vendors.

I used to be paralyzed by stress—not the things that others might think of as stressful, but mostly the little stuff. I was really forced to think about, manage, and find ways to better manage my stress before I imploded. Over the years, I have come to understand that for me, stress is an inherent part of the life I have chosen. I can certainly try to reduce stress in areas that are ameliorable (which I do actively, such as outsourcing what I can), but in our world, my work, and my life, many stressors are an inherent part of the experience. I try to embrace it, let it go as possible, and get above it when I can. Additionally, I have learned that for me it is about balancing the stressors with things that bring me joy—so sometimes it isn't about reducing or embracing the stress, but rather, actively engaging in activities that bring me energy—so I can expend that energy on managing the stress. That and a nice cabernet sauvignon at the end of the day seem to be working okay.

Do you have a quote that you live by? What is it?

Chance Favors Only the Prepared Mind
-Louis Pasteur

I have done many different things professionally thus creating a curvy career that has been interesting, challenging, and fulfilling. Folks often ask me how to create your own path—this quote for me sums it up.

What's something you've tried, that you'll never, ever try again?

Deep fried maggots on the street in Hanoi, Vietnam.

- by Lena Loo

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