American biochemist Roger Kornberg said, “To solve a difficult problem in medicine, don’t study it directly, but rather pursue a curiosity about nature and the rest will follow. Do basic research.” And that is what Dr Steve Serrao did in San Francisco and was awarded for it. He worked in improving access to GI services, implementing new technology and reducing medical transfers and was awarded with the Eckmann emerging leadership award for his work, a prestigious award in the medical field in the USA.
Originally from Colva, Dr Steve Serrao is the son of Lourenco and Maria Serrao. He was born in Goa, did his Primary and Secondary Studies in Dubai, UAE. He holds an MBBS degree from Kasturba Medical College (KMC -Manipal) Karnataka with subsequent training in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology from Loma Linda University Medical Center, California. He obtained a Master of Public Health (MPH) in Health Administration in 2004 at Loma Linda University, School of Public Health, California, and received his PhD in Epidemiology in 2018 with a focus on health operations and clinical outcomes associated with hospital admissions. Currently, he serves as the Chief of the Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the Riverside University Health System (RUHS). He explains what attracted him to medicine, “Medicine is about caring for our community first and foremost. But it also means doing it with high quality, effectively, and with integrity. The work that it takes to care for people intrigued me from the beginning. This is what drew me to medicine.”
With twenty years of experience in the medical and health management sector, he was excited yet humble to receive the award, “Just as a ship or airplane has waypoints as it moves toward its destination, these recognitions are just that. One cannot stop innovating or striving for excellence at any point. Awards are an affirmation of one’s past work. They are my impetus to work harder toward excellence,” says Dr Serrao, as he leads the ongoing expansion of Gastroenterology services at RUHS. His focus is on ‘Reducing disparities and healthcare costs by optimizing GI Services.’
Elaborating on his two awards, he says, “The Eckmann leadership award for emerging leadership recognizes leaders in the field at Riverside University Health System, who have exhibited excellence in leadership. The recognition of top doctor in the region takes into account clinical excellence in the respective field.”
He further explains the reason he was awarded for his work on improving access to GI services, implementing new technology and reducing medical transfers, “When a person does not get care in time, it's quite possible that underlying pathology gets worse or malignancies are missed. The detection of these requires access, technology, and reducing waiting times from referrals. If a system does not have availability, specialists or the technology to provide care, patients suffer.”
The Covid pandemic was devastating for the world especially for the United States of America. Dr Serrao informs that the pandemic unfortunately worsened the patients who were not even affected with Covid. “Myself as with countless other doctors and nurses and staff, worked through the pandemic. It was disheartening to see the impact on our patients. Keeping focused on daily goals helped. I think there are many healthcare professionals out there that suffer from burnout and exhaustion. Service is in the DNA of these professionals and this service comes at a cost of their own wellbeing. Screening for cancers reduced during Covid. Patients then found themselves with more advanced cancers.
Also, it is important to note the rise of alcohol related diseases like alcohol hepatitis and cirrhosis,” he says.
When not working at the hospital, tending to his patients, Dr Serrao finds peace in his garden, “I love to work in my garden, I think I have taken after my mom. I love to work, operationalize and the business of medicine intrigues me, this is definitely from my dad.”
Giving a peek into his Goan life, he says, “I was born in Goa, I live in California and I am an OCI, naturalized US citizen now. I do visit Goa every two years. Interestingly, I graduated from KMC Manipal and visited Goa Medical College a number of times in the past. However, I have no current programmes in Goa.”
He gives back to his community, through the Serrao Health Policy and Management fund that is being managed through the Loma Linda University Foundation. “Serrao Health Policy and Management fund is a charitable fund that helps faculty and students realize public health projects for the community,” he explains. Dr Serrao has also made media appearances for television channels in California for KVCR and ABC7 on topics such as ‘Medical Tourism’, ‘The Threat of Pandemics in the US’ and the ‘Importance of Colon Cancer Screening and Disparities’.
As head of the Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, he offers advice for patients in Goa, “Alcohol use and its impact on your liver should be taken seriously. Alcohol can induce inflammation and in the long term, cause liver failure and even can progress to cancer. If there is a history of gastric or colon cancer, you should get evaluated by a gastroenterologist. Early detection can save lives. Symptoms of pain or bleeding should be evaluated.”