Dr. Taru Saigal: Why Ohio State feels like home

When Dr. Taru Saigal was seeking a career move that combined her passion for improving health care for minority patients with support for her young family, one place stood out – Ohio State.

Saigal, now a clinical assistant professor in Ohio State’s College of Medicine, grew up in northern India, attended medical school in Nepal, and had held clinical positions in other U.S. hospitals. When she and her husband explored Ohio State and Columbus in 2017, they immediately felt like Buckeyes.

“We decided in just one visit that this was going to be home for us,” Saigal says.

She has made such a difference at Ohio State that she was named a 2023 recipient of the university’s Distinguished Diversity Enhancement Award. Five awards are given annually to Buckeyes who demonstrate an exceptional commitment to the university’s shared values.

At Ohio State, Saigal has immersed herself in her career and community. She volunteers for leadership positions and connects to colleagues who help her grow.

“I have tremendous support all around me — as well as having resources, which are plentiful at Ohio State,” she says. “And resources are not just there, but everybody around you makes you aware of those resources; you know where they are, you know how to get them.”

Saigal is fluent in several languages, understands what it feels like to be an immigrant and is driven to care for her patients. When she saw patients who didn’t speak English struggling, she took initiative to change their lives.

She set out to improve how we provide health care for minority patients. This drive led to the creation of a program that connects patients with doctors who speak their native language.

“It’s not just better care, it’s safer care when patients can speak to a physician in a language they fully understand,” she says. “When you reduce the communication barriers, they understand the disease plan, the medication, and they’re less likely to make emergency room visits.”

Saigal’s compassion and leadership has improved patient care and inspired the people around her.

Read on to see why she chooses to make her career at Ohio State — and learn more about how she is making an impact on healthcare in central Ohio.

What makes you feel like part of Ohio State’s communities?

The New Albany clinic is a part of something huge — Ohio State — but it still feels really cohesive and small — you’re seeing familiar faces and working with the same people again and again.

I feel very fortunate to be part of two large divisions, the division of Internal Medicine and the division of Hospital Medicine, within the same department. That instantly broadens your community, because there’s so many people that you’re working with and collaborating with.

What initially drew you to working at Ohio State?

I did my internal medicine residency at Louisiana State University, and then I worked in Boston as a hospitalist. I was ready to move from Boston, and I knew I wanted to be in the Midwest in a midsize city.

My husband and I were looking for a forever home, and we had a checklist in mind: We wanted an academic institution; we definitely wanted a healthy work-life balance; we wanted a diverse community; and we wanted excellent schools for our children.

Initially we had this grand plan that we would interview at multiple locations and carefully weigh our options, and then everything took a turn when we set foot at Ohio State.

I went to the New Albany community, and we visited houses and we saw the schools, and everything clicked — it was like love at first sight. We decided in just one visit that this was going to be home for us.

Tell us about the innovative language program you created here.

During my time in hospital medicine, I encountered many Nepali-speaking patients who had limited English proficiency who were coming to the hospital. At Ohio State, I think we saw more than 15,000 unique limited English proficient patients, resulting in more than 150,000 encounters. These patients placed so much value in interacting with a physician who spoke the same language. As I looked into this, I found the great amount of work already showing that when there is a matching with a professional who speaks the same language, it leads to positive clinical outcomes.

Our physicians kind of mirror our diverse society, and so many speak so many different languages. I thought to myself: ‘We have to be at the forefront of this.’

We started small within the Division of General Internal Medicine, and we found 15 physician faculty who were able to provide language concordant care services in 14 languages and dialects. From there, we did a linguistic diversity survey in the Department of Internal Medicine, and we identified 65 additional internal medicine faculty who are able to provide language concordant services in 35 unique languages.

What other initiatives are you most proud to be part of during your time at Ohio State?

The Community Health Education Course is a service-learning program that provides medical students a hands-on experience where they implement a project in the community. It’s all about healing not just an individual in the clinic, but healing communities, going out into communities, learning about your neighborhood, and seeing how else we can support our patients as a physician.

As a medical student myself, I studied in Nepal, and we used to do our community health education program in the remote villages, where we would have to hike for eight hours just to get to the village. The amount of medicine and the things I learned from the people in that community health education program, I think, was just indispensable.

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