Med student honored for starting health initiatives

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Friday, January 25, 2008

At the age of five, Rajiv Kumar ’05 MD’09 knew he shared the same “passion” for medicine that the 20 doctors in his family have. In two years, Kumar will graduate from the Alpert Medical School – via the Program for Liberal Medical Education – with not only three successful health initiatives under his belt, but also the honor of being chosen as one of Providence Monthly magazine’s “10 people you don’t know now (but soon will)” for 2008.

“I’m thrilled the work I’m doing is getting this kind of attraction. That’s how I know I’m doing the right thing,” Kumar said.

Kumar’s current work includes the nationwide expansion of Providence Health Solutions, a workplace wellness company he co-founded with Brad Weinberg ’03 MD’09 last year that helps employers teach their employees how to lead healthy lifestyles. The program has already impressed people in the state by winning the Rhode Island Business Plan Competition in 2007.

The idea behind Providence Health Solutions is similar to that of Kumar’s biggest project, Shape Up RI. Providence Health Solutions holds exercise and weight-loss competitions in the workplace, while Shape Up RI does so for the entire state.

Having founded Shape Up RI in December 2005, Kumar continues to believe that “innovative solutions” are the best cure for obesity, which he considers “the single greatest health challenge in the nation.”

Shape Up RI’s Web site said the program was accountable for a 28,519-pound collective weight loss among 6,916 people in 2007.

This year – the first year in which all 39 cities and towns in the Ocean State will be represented in the competition – will mark the program’s third competition. Last year, University employees made up 431 of those involved, a number Kumar hopes will rise in 2008.

“We already have 350 employees signed up, but the last day to register is Monday,” he said, adding that the $15 entrance fee is covered by the University.

Kumar’s ultimate dream for Shape Up RI is to raise enough funds to offer the service free of charge.

His third project is Adopt A Doctor, an organization he co-founded in June 2003 with Ray Rickman, a former state representative, to “reverse the brain drain (of doctors) in Africa.”

It currently gives 16 doctors ­- in Liberia, Malawi, Mali and Sierra Leone – $100 per month to help them stay and practice in their home countries, in exchange for a several-year commitment to stay in the country.

When asked how he did it all, Kumar said, “By sacrificing a lot of sleep.”

In a more serious tone, he added that “Brown students are full of ideas, passion and energy but sometimes schoolwork gets in the way of all that.”

“I encourage other students to take advantage of being in a state like Rhode Island. It’s a wonderful place to bringing about change in the community,” he said.

Kumar, originally from Connecticut, now views Rhode Island as his new home.