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Dr. Ghosh likes to say “C” is his destiny. It brought him to Cedar Rapids. After all, he was born in Calcutta. He came to Chicago after medical school. Later he moved to Case Western Reserve in Cleveland and when it was time to go into private practice as an oncologist, he chose Cedar Rapids.
Dr. Chirantan Ghosh M.D. was born in 1955 in Calcutta, India, to a large family of modest means. The 9th of 10 children, little Chirantan learned the most important lessons of his life from his parents. His mother taught him to always remember the poor and to care for them. From his father he learned to stand for what he believed no matter the cost.
In what would have been about the fifth grade in American schools, he earned his way into the Hare School, a prestigious school started a century earlier by a Scotsman. There he had some of his best learning experiences and some of his worst.
He learned that he could succeed in a demanding academic environment even without the advantage of private tutors that many of his classmates had.
He also learned about failure. As a 9th grader, he became ill during the final exam and could not complete the test. To move to the next level, he had to finish the test and earn high marks on it. The school would not allow him to retake the test. He was given two options – drop out or repeat the 9th grade.
Although the subject of derision at the hands of his teachers and fellow students, he chose to repeat the grade. When a teacher told him he should drop out because students who fail the test the first time, always fail on the second try, he refused.
Chirantan told the teacher he would not fail and in fact he would finish at the top of his class. That led to ridicule by his classmates. For a year he took their taunts until he retook the test and came out at the top of his class. He went from being laughed at to being the student everyone wanted to sit by and study with.
The stars aligned to get him into medical school. He was headed for engineering college believing the cost of medical school would be too much of a burden on his parents, and above all else, he didn’t want to be a burden. He loved math and thought engineering school would be a good, less expensive course of study for him.
But his best friend wanted to go to medical school and wanted Chirantan to go with him. So his friend offered, insisted really, that Chirantan take the entrance exam. He even paid the application fee for him. Chirantan continued to refuse until his brother chided him, “How do you even know you’ll be accepted? Why don’t you just take the test and then decide what to do if you make it.”
Always up for a challenge, Chirantan took the test, and as you might guess, he passed it.
Still there was the issue of money for school. He could live at home so room and board would not be a problem but tuition and books would. As fate would have it, the government offered college scholarships. The top 100 hundred ranking students (out of pool of ,about 350,000 applicants) would be given tuition for their choice of academic disciplines based on the score of a test. Chirantan was one of the 100 students to win a national scholarship.
Finally, his father had won a lottery that gave him about 4,000 rupees to help pay for the education of Chirantan’s oldest brother. That helped pave the way for all of the Ghosh children to be educated.
After medical school, Dr. Ghosh followed his brother Sam to the United States. He did so with reluctance. After all it was India that educated him and the need was so great for doctors in his homeland. However, the jobs for doctors were generally given to the sons and daughters of politically connected students and since Dr. Ghosh had led a movement to keep the political parties off campus, he had no one to go to for a job. He had alienated both parties in his efforts to make education politically neutral.
After a year of working in a small Chicago hospital, Dr. Ghosh completed his residency at Hines Veterans Hospital. It was a regional hospital where complicated cases were referred and Dr. Ghosh thrived in the challenging environment. It was there he put his love of mathematics to use.
If you ask him, he will say, “If I am a good doctor, it is because of my love of mathematics. It’s the problems we face and the solutions we arrive at that make us the kind of doctors we are. I love the search for a solution. If one doesn’t work, I look for another one, and I keep looking as long as it takes. If you make a correct diagnosis, you can find the solution.’’
After three successful years in internal medicine at Hines, he took a position as a fellow at Case Western Reserve University. It was the beginning of his career in oncology and hematology.
He found his greatest skill and satisfaction came from working directly with patients and he sought a position that would allow him to continue the clinical research he was doing at Case within a patient based practice.
Although he thought he might land in California, it was Oncology Associates in Cedar Rapids that ultimately turned out to the best fit for him and his wife Sima, and in 1990, they packed all their belongings into their aging Sentra and moved to Cedar Rapids.
The first years in Cedar Rapids were rewarding but difficult. He was doing the work he loved most but quickly discovered that Cedar Rapids was not ready for a doctor from India. They liked their doctors to be white and graduates of American universities, preferably the University of Iowa.
Often referrals from surgeons came through with the notation, “Anybody but Ghosh.”
It took five years before he won over the community with his style of practicing medicine. From that time to the present he has had the largest oncology practice in Cedar Rapids.
In 2002, Dr. Ghosh left Oncology Associates to establish his own practice, Iowa Blood & Cancer Care. He wanted a practice that would focus first and foremost on the patient.
He encouraged his patients to look after their mental and physical health and their fitness. He offered them Y memberships and yoga classes. He added a nutritionist and social worker to his staff. He established a foundation that helps patients fill in the gaps in their insurance. The foundation buys wigs for breast cancer patients and pain medication for those whose insurance doesn’t cover them. Privately he helped patients meet financial obligations.
Patients are given his personal cell phone number and encouraged to call whenever they need to. He visits his patients at their homes when it is difficult for them to come to his office.
And he promises each patient that he will be with them on every step of their journey wherever that journey takes them.
When the outcome is not the one hoped for and death is at hand, Dr. Ghosh is by the patient’s side encouraging them to resolve any family problems, put their financial house in order and to get right with their god. He promises them he will do his best to make sure that final passage is as peaceful and as free from pain as possible.
“I consider it the highest honor when one of my patients wants me to be with them at the time of their death,” he says. “I want to take that next step with them.”
At 56, Dr. Ghosh is not ready to retire. He does not know exactly where his next steps will lead him but wherever it is, he will always keep his patients as the primary focus of his work and he will always stand up for what he believes is the right, and he will help people who need help wherever he sees them.
Each year he and Sima give away much of their income – to the foundation, to flood victims, to educational programs in the high schools and colleges. He has helped single mothers earn nursing degrees and set up an annual continuing education award for nurses at St. Luke’s Hospital and Mercy Medical Center. He has contributed funds and set up the foundation PROJECT FINISH at Kirkwood Community College that helps students in need train to be health care professionals. He established a computer learning center at the Cedar Rapids Library and funded a meals program for the needy when it was about to close. A foundation has also been founded at Mount Mercy College for the study of nature.
In his native India he purchased and outfitted an ambulance to take medical services into the community surrounding Calcutta. He has established a school for homeless boys and has plans to open a similar school for girls.
Those are the lessons he learned from his parents a half century ago. They are the lessons that continue to guide him in his private life, his practice of medicine and his spiritual life.
By Elizabeth Kutter